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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Hungry Indian farmers arrive in shiny glitzy Mumbai to protest

News Analysis |

More than 30,000 farmers have converged in India’s financial capital, Mumbai, after walking 167km (103 miles) from Nashik district to demand loan waivers and better prices for their produce. Azad Maidan in south Mumbai has turned into a sea of red this morning as thousands of farmers, carrying red flags, converged here after walking around 180 kms under blazing sun over the last six days.

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Over 30,000 protesting farmers have reached India’s financial capital. The farmers plan to lay siege to the Maharashtra State Assembly and press for their demands. The state government has decided to appoint a six members committee to look into the farmers demands which includes a complete waiver of loans and power dues and implementation of the Ms Swaminathan Committee report.

The group, which includes children, women and elderly, says the government has not implemented the loan waivers it promised last year. The Maharashtra state government says it is open to talks to end the protest. Farmers say the state has seen rapid growth but they have been left out.  Last year, the Maharashtra government had announced a loan waiver of Rs 4,000 crore under the first phase of the farm loan waiver scheme.

The main demands of the farmers are a complete waiver of farm loan and of power bills.

The crowd of farmers walked six days from Nashik and timed it so that they reached Mumbai’s Azad Maidan (grounds) in the early hours of Monday to avoid disrupting school exams and the daily commute of workers.

The farmers say they want to be paid at least one-and-a-half times the cost of their crops. They also want tribal farmers, who mainly cultivate in forests, to be allowed to own land. They are planning to camp in the grounds until the government agrees to meet their demands.

The main demands of the farmers are a complete waiver of farm loan and of power bills, better prices for crops, pension scheme for farmers, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations on minimum support price and proper implementation of laws governing forest produce.

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Last year, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a Rs 34,022 crore loan waiver scheme for 89 lakh farmers. But not all the farmers were eligible for it. Also, the implementation of loan waiver has been patchy. Less than half of the targeted farmers have been offered the waiver even more than six months after the scheme was announced. The protesting farmers demand a complete and unconditional loan waiver.

Farmer leader Vijay Javandhia has asserted that “agricultural income has swiftly declined in the country”. “Income in cotton, grains and pulses is declining day by day. That’s why the rural economy is gradually running out of money,” he said.

Crops have been destroyed on a large scale due to unpredictable weather and poor rainfall. The Economic Survey of Maharashtra has projected a negative agriculture growth at 8.3 per cent for financial year 2017-18 on account of decreased production of food-grains, pulses and cotton crops.

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Droughts, inadequate pricing policies and poor water management have hit agriculture in the state. The production of cereals, pulses, oilseeds and cotton is expected to decrease by 4 per cent, 6 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively. Over the previous year as per the survey, the area under Rabi crops (as on January 5, 2018) is 31 per cent less over the previous year.

Nearly 37% of the villages in Maharashtra may get a ‘drought-like’ tag as they have reported low crop production. The state government has come up with various steps to contain the situation but they are insufficient or erratic.

The number of security personnel guarding Maharashtra State Assembly has been increased in view of farmers’ agitation to avoid any untoward incident.  The protestors have found support from across the spectrum.

Indian National Congress Leader Rahul Gandhi asks PM Modi, CM Fadnavis to accept farmers’ demand