Mumbai: Thousands of Maharashtra's farmers on a long march to Mumbai arrived at the entry points of the city on Sunday, ready to proceed to the state legislature building in South Mumbai on Monday to demand a complete loan waiver and better prices for their produce.
An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people are part of the march, which started from Nashik on Wednesday.
Farmers under the aegis of the Left-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha are headed for Nariman Point, the city's business district housing the legislature building. Among their other demands are implementation of the reasonable recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, and 24/7 water and electricity supply. Leaders of the Shiv Sena, part of the state's ruling coalition, arrived in Thane to meet the farmers and farm activists, in a sea of red flags. The 180-km “long march” of farmers and farm activists has already received support from all parties except the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), underlining broad concerns around the farm sector and the isolation of the BJP on the issue.
Apart from Shiv Sena, which is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, the march on Saturday received support from Raj Thackeray, who heads the rival Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). Sena and MNS workers were on streets to welcome the farmers and extend logistical as well as moral support to the march. Eknath Shinde, senior Shiv Sena leader and minister in the state cabinet, welcomed the march in Thane. The opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party had backed the march from the very beginning.
The Mumbai Police are likely to stop the march near Azad Maidan opposite the Chhatrapati Shivajii Maharaj Terminus. The march is likely to disrupt traffic and clog roads leading up to South Mumbai on 12 March. The police has already issued a traffic advisory.
Aware of farmers’ anger, the government in its budget presented on 9 March took a clear farm sector focus. The main demand, according to state secretary of Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha Ajit Nawle, is total farm loan waiver. In June last year, the Devendra Fadnavis government had declared a Rs34,022 crore loan waiver and capped it at Rs1.5 lakh per farmer’s family. The announcement came after strong protests by farmers.
Nawle says riders put in by the Fadnavis government for loan waivers were just a means to deny farmers their due by tying them up in “terms and conditions”.
The other key demand is full implementation of the recommendations made by the National Commission on Farmers headed by agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan in 2006. One of its key recommendations is to structure the minimum support price (MSP) for farm produce in such a way that it incorporates at least 50% of the cost of production over and above the MSP as the final remuneration price paid to farmers.
In his Union budget speech in February, finance minister Arun Jaitley announced a remuneration price 1.5 times higher than MSP. But Jaitley later clarified that the government would use the so-called A2+FL formula, under which farmers would be paid 50% of the cost of inputs such as seeds and fertilisers and an imputed value of family labour in calculating MSP.
Farm organizations, however, have been demanding calculation of the MSP by the C2 formula which, in addition to the A2+Fl formula, factors in an imputed rent and interest on owned land and capital.