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Maharashtra farmers call off protest after Fadnavis bows to their demands

Rajesh Bhayani & Abhijit Lele/ 13 Mar 18 | 01:09 AM

Maharashtra farmers protesting in Mumbai | Photo: Kamlesh D Pednekar

The farmers’ agitation in Maharashtra was called off on Monday evening after the state government conceded most for their demands and agreed to implement the conditions agreed upon in the next six months.

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A 12-member delegation representing farmers met a ministers’ committee in the afternoon. It was given a letter, signed by the chief secretary, in which the government agreed to address complaints and appeals under the Forest Act, 2006, in the next two months and relax some of the conditions for loan-waiver eligibility.

The government also agreed to issue ration cards to farmers in tribal areas immediately to help them prove their land claims. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told the farmers that he will take up with the Centre the matter of minimum support price (MSP) at one-and-a-half times the cost of production as suggested by the Swaminathan committee.  On Monday, over 35,000 farmers from across Maharashtra converged on Azad Maidan in Mumbai. They had started from Nashik on March 6 and travelled over 180 km on foot. Their plan was to gherao the Assembly.

Some of the other main demands were an unconditional farm loan waiver, as some of them failed to qualify for any financial relief under the Maharashtra government’s initiative last year, and transfer of forest land to tribal farmers who have been tilling it for years.

The protest march was orchestrated by the All-India Kisan Sabha, which is affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Besides Opposition parties, Shiv Sena, a partner in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led ruling coalition, also supported the agitation.

CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechuri with farmers take part in 'Kisan long march' organised by All Indian Kisan Sabha (AIKS) at Azad Maidan in Mumbai Photo: PTI

In the Union Budget for 2018-19, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has proposed implementing the Swaminathan committee’s recommendations. But, there is uncertainty over the cost to determine the MSP.

Last year, the Maharashtra government announced a loan waiver for which 6 million farmers had applied. However, the process has been delayed because of red tape.

The Forest Act, which came into force in 2006, led to farmers losing their rights over land on which they continued farming. Now, the government has assured that their claims would be decided on in six months.

Other demands include irrigation facilities and tweaks to land acquisition laws. The government has assured farmers this will be looked into. Fadnavis told the farmers that land acquisition for the Mumbai-Nagpur corridor and other major projects such as the bullet train would be through consent and a fair mechanism. As far as farm loan waiver was concerned, three-fourths of the claims had already been met. Senior minister Chandrakant Patil said Chief Secretary Sumit Mallick will follow-up on all the schemes every two months.

Experts said although all farmers in Maharashtra were not part of the rally, the issues were region-agnostic because the state and Centre had been focusing more on consumers when prices rose sharply, but tillers hardly received proper remuneration.

Ajit Shah, president, Horticulture Exporters’ Association, said: “The government should focus on improving agriculture research and making it easily available to farmers." He added the government should promote farmers to come together, form co-operatives, and aggregate resources to improve produce.

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