Farmers win assurance after 200km march

Indian farmers shout slogans during a rally at the end of their six day long march on foot, in Mumbai.

Mumbai: Nearly 35,000 farmers and tribals who started a Long March agitation from Nashik, Maharashtra, six days ago and walked 180km to the state capital to put forth various demands tasted success after a meeting with the state government.

They had demanded complete loan waiver, compensation for recent crop destruction due to hailstorm and pest attack as well as transfer of land to tribals who have been tilling the land for years and implementation of the Swaminathan Committee report, which recommended a holistic national policy for farmers.

“For three generations my family has cultivated crops on a two acre-plot, but we still don’t own it,” said 74-year-old Murabhai Bhavar as she poured water to soothe her aching feet. “The land we till should be registered in our name.”

It was the second major protest by farmers in less than a year and put pressure on the state government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been facing angry farmers in several other states.

The farmers, wearing red caps and waving red communist party flags, chanted slogans demanding higher food grain and milk prices as they marched through south Mumbai, where many big companies and the central bank have headquarters.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said his government was “sensitive and positive” towards the demands of the farmers and that, “Around 90 to 95 per cent of the participants are landless. Many of them have not been able to avail of forest land rights and thus have not been able to become farmers at all.”

He gave assurances that the tribals will get their land rights and that whatever is allowed by law will be given to them.

He also assured them that farmers who were left out of loan waiver by the previous government in 2009 will get the benefit this time. He added that implementation of the Swaminathan Committee will be discussed and pointed that the previous government had not done anything on this issue. What is important is that the government will be giving a written draft this time to the farmers.

The farmers arrived in Mumbai by night exhausted with blisters on their feet, after many had trekked barefoot for the past one week. They reached Azad Maidan by 7am so as not to create traffic problems and inconvenience students who were appearing for Board exams.

Several Mumbaikars stood on roads and offered them water, dates, biscuits and tea. Seeing their plight, the chief minister offered to send them back home by train free of cost.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha spearheaded the protest that transformed Mumbai’s Azad Maidan into a sea of red today.

Initially, the farmers intended to surround the State Assembly complex, where the legislative session is underway, to emphasise their demand for a complete loan waiver, better price for their crops, especially onions which is the main crop in the Nashik region, among other demands.

Meanwhile, BJP MP Poonam Mahajan created a controversy by saying that farmers’ protests was instigated by “urban Maoists.” She said, “They are holding the flag of Communists and urban Maoists are misguiding them.”

Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar, Congress President Ashok Chavan, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray and youth president of Shiv Sena Aaditya Thackeray extended their support to the farmers.

Mumbai traffic was largely unaffected as farmers reached the city at around midnight on Sunday but police said they were on alert in case of disruption later.

— with inputs from Reuters


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