Over one lakh farmers across Maharashtra would march from Nashik to Mumbai from Wednesday in a repeat of their much-talked-about ‘Long March’ last year as the talks between farmer leaders and state government officials remained inconclusive on Sunday.
The farmers, who would cover nearly 165 kilometres over eight days to reach Mumbai on February 27, are demanding the Devendra Fadnavis government to honour the commitments given to farmers during their march in March last year and take measures to alleviate the suffering of farmers in the wake of a severe drought that has gripped half the State.
Last year’s Long March — which started with 25,000 landless and tribal farmers and ended in Mumbai with 50,000 farmers — was a watershed in farm movements in the country. The images of barefoot farmers, walking with bleeding feet, into the commercial capital in the dead of the night, flashed on television screens left a lasting impression on city dwellers.
According to the organisers, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the farmer organisation backed by the Communist party of India (Marxist), double the number of farmers are expected to join the march this year.
According to an AIKS statement, a convention of farmers was organised on February 13 in Ahmednagar and submitted a memorandum to the district collector. Instead of taking any action on the memorandum, the police started registering police cases against state AIKS leaders, including its state secretary Ajit Nawale, it said.
Subsequent meetings held between the leaders and government officials, including the latest one on Sunday, failed to yield any result.
The AIKS leaders said they would go ahead with the protest march. “Though the State government has announced a loan waiver package of ₹34,000 crore in 2017, the government officially announced that it has been able to disburse only ₹17,000 crore so far. We want the government to take the immediate steps to fulfil the commitment made to the farmers,” said AIKS president Ashok Dhawale.
The government had similarly promised to give land titles to landless farmers and implement the Forest Rights Act. “Except in Surguna tehsil in Nashik district, pattas are not given anywhere. The government did it in Surguna because our MLA Jiva Pandu Gavit put pressure on it,” said Dhawale.
AIKS has also been demanding the government to distribute land belonging to various temples in the State to farmers who have been tilling these tracts of land. “There are about 6 lakh hectares of land under temple trusts which are cultivated by landless farmers. These farmers have natural right over this land,” he said.
“Similarly, the Government had promised to increase the pension for old farmers from ₹600 per month, but it increased it to ₹900 per month, which is a pittance,” Dhawale said, adding that the farmers’ demand was a pension of ₹3,000 a month.
Long lasting solution sought
The protesting farmers are also demanding the government to come out with a crop insurance scheme which is farmer-friendly, better remuneration for their crops, short-term and long-term measures to help farmers to drought-proof their farms .
“As immediate measures, the Government should provide drinking water, waive fees for school and college students and increase the number of jobs available under MNREGA,” Dhawale said.
In the long-term, the government should complete all pending irrigation projects and construct small and check dams on the rivers flowing to the Arabian Sea. If water from these rivers is diverted to the drought-hit regions such as Marathwada in the Godavari basin, there can be a lasting solution to problems faced by farmers there,” the AIKS president said.