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Onion prices, forest land rights, loan waivers — 10,000 farmers march to Mumbai for ‘unmet demands’

The march began at Nashik and is likely to reach Mumbai on 20 March. The farmers' 17-point charter includes demands they say have been unmet for as long as 5 years. Meeting with Shinde govt tomorrow.

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Mumbai: Around 10,000 farmers led by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) are heading to Mumbai with a set of 17 demands including remunerative prices for their produce, especially onions. Their march, which started from Dindori town in Maharashtra’s Nashik district, is likely to reach the state capital by 20 March.

The Eknath Shinde government has announced that it will hold a meeting with farmer leaders Wednesday and try to address their issues.

Key among the farmers’ concerns is the falling onion prices — rates per quintal have dropped to Rs 700 this month from around Rs 1,100 in February. Farmers from Lasalgaon and Pimpalgaon — home to large wholesale onion mandis — have been protesting for more than two weeks as prices dropped to Rs 2 per kg. 

The farmers are seeking Rs 2,000 per quintal for onions, an immediate subsidy of Rs 600 per quintal, along with change in export policies. Their other demands include remunerative prices for cotton, soyabean, tur, green gram, milk, and hirda. 

Apart from these, the long standing demand of implementation of the Forest Rights Act is also a pressing demand of the AIKS.

This is the third such long march in the last five years, with the first one held in March 2018, when around 40,000 farmers including adivasis reached Mumbai, covering around 200 km on foot. Their demands included forest land rights, unconditional loan and electricity bill waivers, pension scheme, MSP among others.

Speaking to ThePrint, Ajit Navale, AIKS joint secretary, said the latest protest is not limited to a few districts but is ongoing statewide. 

“There is a lot of resentment among farmers and it is not just about one district…We want government intervention and our demands should be met. We will continue to march until then,” he further said, adding that so far, farmers from Vidarbha and Marathwada have also joined them and they are expecting the number to swell to 40,000-50,000 as the march proceeds.

The state government was to hold a meeting with the farmer leaders Tuesday, but it was postponed by a day.

“The state government will hold a dialogue with farmer leaders tomorrow. Farmers have started their long march from Nashik with their various demands,” Dada Bhuse, guardian minister of Nashik district, said in assembly Tuesday. 

The opposition has also been putting pressure on the government. Ajit Pawar, leader of opposition in assembly said in the house Tuesday, “Farmers are walking in scorching heat towards Mumbai for their demands. Today’s meeting was cancelled. The government should immediately hold talks with them and try to find solutions to their problems.”

Also Read: ‘What option do we have other than suicide?’ Onion farmers in Maharashtra cry for help amid crashing prices

‘Unmet demands’ going back 5 years

In the case of the 2018 long farmers’ march, the then Devendra Fadnavis-led government had promised implementation of their demands. However, since they were not fulfilled, the AIKS walked again in March 2019. Again, the government held talks with AIKS leaders and gave them assurances, after which the march was suspended after covering 10 km. 

In 2018, when the farmers marched from Nashik to Mumbai, their primary demand was right to forest land and waiver of loans. They wanted complete implementation of the loan waiver scheme announced in 2017, implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006, and compensation to cotton farmers whose crops were damaged due to bollworm infestation, unseasonal rains and hailstorms.
Fadnavis had said that claims/appeals for forest rights would be cleared within six months. However, according to Navale, most of the demands have not been implemented on ground, due to which they are raising the same demands again.

“We had protested and taken out march earlier as well. But no promise has been fulfilled yet. There were assurances but nothing was implemented and so we are compelled to take out this march again,” said AIKS leader Navale, quoted earlier. 

On Monday, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde had announced a Rs 300 per quintal ex-gratia subsidy to affected onion farmers. “There is a bumper crop of red onions in the market now. This is the prime reason for the fall of prices. This is a perishable crop so it does not come under the minimum price act. The state government has appointed a committee to find solutions to the issue, and it has suggested per quintal financial help,” he had said in assembly.

However, the AIKS rejected this and demanded at least Rs 600 per quintal as aid. Farmers also sought 12-hour power supply during day time and immediate financial help for crop damage due to unseasonal rains.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: SKM facing factionalism, rebellions in unions. What it means for farmers’ movement


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