The march comes as Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis tries to shed his government’s anti-farmer image.
Mumbai: Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who has been struggling to rid his government of its anti-farmer image, is back under pressure with thousands of tillers marching towards Azad Maidan in south Mumbai.
The march comes eight months after 30,000 farmers walked 170 km from Nashik to Mumbai to get their demands heard. While the March stir was organised during the state assembly’s budget session, this one comes while the winter session is underway.
Over two days, the participants of the latest demonstration plan to cover about 40 km from Thane to Azad Maidan on foot, largely to reiterate the same demands voiced during the march earlier this year — awarding tribal farmers pending forest rights titles under the Forest Rights Act, effective implementation of the state government’s farm loan waiver, and implementing the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee, including increasing the minimum support price to 1.5 times the cost of cultivation.
It was only after an assurance that most of these demands will be met that the March protest was called off.
A difficult time
The latest march has been organised by the Lok Sangharsh Manch, an organisation working in the arena of civil rights, with support from various farmers’ organisations.
It comes at a time when 180 of Maharashtra’s 350 talukas are reeling under a drought, with the state receiving only 77 per cent of the average rainfall this year.
For Fadnavis, it may set the stage for another onslaught from the opposition, which has been seeking to corner the chief minister on several other allegations, such as the state’s failure to address drought, the failure of its flagship Jal Yukta Shivar scheme (which seeks to improve the moisture content of the soil) despite an expenditure of crores, and faulty implementation of its Rs 21,500-crore farm loan waiver scheme.
The timing is precarious, given that the Lok Sabha elections are just about five months away and the Maharashtra assembly election around the corner too.
Leaders of the current farmers’ march say they will sit at Azad Maidan until CM Fadnavis, his cabinet ministers and the chief secretary meet them and direct district collectors to immediately implement their demands.
“Over the last six months, barely any tribal farmers have got their land rights under the Forest Rights Act, which is why they are forced to march again,” said Feroze Mithiborewala, a supporter of the Lok Sangharsh Manch and one of the key organisers of Wednesday’s march.
“We are staying at Azad Maidan until the CM meets us and gives orders to district collectors to immediately issue land titles for all the pending applications under the Forest Rights Act,” he added.
Mithiborewala said they hadn’t yet sought an appointment with the chief minister. “We will,” he added. “Let the pressure build up.”
The participating farmers said they had a halt planned for the evening at Somaiya Grounds in Mumbai’s central area of Sion, adding that they would continue their march to Azad Maidan early Thursday morning. Magsaysay award winner and celebrated environmentalist Dr Rajendra Singh, also known as the ‘Waterman of India’, is among the participants of the march.
‘Last march yielded results, but more needs to be done’
In the wake of the Nashik to Mumbai long march, Fadnavis had given farmers a written assurance that most of their demands would be met in a time-bound manner.
He agreed to bring in certain significant changes to make more farmers eligible for the loan waiver scheme, with the government also promising to take decisions on pending cases involving forest land titles in six months.
Ajit Nawale, a leader of the All India Kisan Sabha, which organised the previous long march, said the previous march had yielded some results.
“Some of our demands came on the agenda,” he added. “Certain conditions of the loan waiver restricting eligibility of farmers for the loan waiver scheme were scrapped and the number of beneficiaries increased. The government started a ‘Van Mitra’ mission to speedily clear pending forest rights awards, milk farmers have got subsidy since then and so on.”
However, he added that the implementation of the farm loan waiver should have been completed by now, noting that while the government was working towards issuing forest rights titles, the exercise had not been completed in the specified timeframe.
Nawale said farmers’ pressure had forced the Prime Minister to implement a minimum support price 1.5 times the cost of cultivation, but added that the benefit was minimal since the government used low production costs as a yardstick.
The Kisan Sabha has planned a similar long march in Delhi on 29 and 30 November.