Mumbai, March 10: On Tuesday (March 6), at least 25,000 farmers from Maharashtra's Nashik set on a 180-km long journey on foot to reach Mumbai and demand the Devendra Fadnavis government a complete waiver of loans. As per reports, they are around 25 km away from Mumbai now. On Monday, the protesting farmers are going to gherao the state Assembly--currently under session--to put forward their demands, which also include implementation of the Swaminathan Committee report. The Swaminathan Committee report says that farmers should be paid one and a half times the cost of production.
The arduous journey of the farmers, which also includes a lot of women and children, has come at a time when a billionaire like Nirav Modi had fled the country by looting banks of around Rs 13,000 crore in the form of unpaid loans. The farmers and their supporters say that when the country's agricultural sector is facing a massive crisis due to drought, suicides of farmers, rising debt of farmers and failure to get minimum support price (MSP), among others, the farmers deserve full waiver of loans.
"The government is pro-rich and anti-poor. How can the government let billionaires like Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya (another fugitive) have gala time at foreign shores and farmers suffer because of increasing debts?" asked a protesting farmer. The protesting farmers say that they are miffed with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) "anti-farmer policies". Around 1,753 debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide in the western state since June last year, claims the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).
The AIKS, affiliated to the Left, has organised the farmers' protest. The agitators have decided to walk from Nashik to Mumbai to register their complaint with the ruling BJP government in Maharashtra. The protesting farmers are walking at least 30 km a day under the hot sun. After the sunset, the farmers gather at an area, mostly near a waterbody, to cook their food and sleep. Their meals are always very simple consisting of rotis, rice and a vegetable curry. A couple of vehicles with food materials and a few other essential items are accompanying the farmers in their journey. The government has also provided police protection to the farmers.
The farmers told NDTV that they have huge debts to pay back. Moreover, they are not getting the right price for their crops resulting in their failure to pay back their loans to banks and private moneylenders.
Last year in June, chief minister Fadnavis had announced loan waiver of Rs. 34,000 crore to pacify the agitating farmers. However, till now he did not fulfil his promise. Since the General elections and state Assembly elections are due next year, the BJP government is under tremendous pressure to honour the demands of the farmers.
Experts say that most of the states don't have enough money to grant loan waiver to farmers. Thus they want the Centre to chip in to address the crisis in agriculture. In the February 1 budget, Union finance minister Arun Jaitley tried his best to woo the farmers by announcing what the experts call "agriculture-friendly budget".
Some of the major farm sector-related announcements made by Jaitley include--minimum support price (MSP) of all crops shall be increased to at least 1.5 times that of the production cost, 470 APMCs have been connected to eNAM network, the rest to be connected by March 2018, Agri-Market Development Fund with a corpus of Rs 2,000 crore to be set up for developing agricultural markets, cluster-model approach to be adopted for agricultural production, allocation in Ministry of Food Processing is being doubled to boost food processing; specialised agro-processing and financial institutions to be promoted by government and Rs 500 crore for Operation Green.
Experts say the government neither has the will nor the funds to fulfil all the promises. The latest protest by the Maharashtra farmers is the first challenge of the Narendra Modi government after the budget to walk the talk and bring some relief to the debt-ridden agricultural sector, known to be the country's backbone.