Official work at the Mantralaya came to a standstill for about two hours on Friday when a young farmer protesting against agrarian distress threatened to kill himself by jumping off the seventh floor parapet. The incident also exposed gaps in the high security cover at the Mantralaya, the administrative headquarters of the state government. The soybean farmer from Osmanabad’s Maslakhurd village, Dyaneshwar Salve, 25, had reached the parapet on the seventh floor around 3.45 pm, unchecked.
Salve finally relented and climbed back to safety after negotiations for two hours, during which the lack of preparedness at the Mantralaya to tackle such incidents also came to fore. He was later whisked away to the Marine Drive police station.
Salve, however, ensured that he had made his point. School Education Minister Vinod Tawde, who was the seniormost of the three ministers who participated in the efforts to dissuade him from taking his own life, said, “He (Salve) did not press any personal demand. He was protesting against the government over the issues faced by the farmers in general.” Just as Tawde said that the farmer was not linked to any political outfit, photos surfaced later in the evening linking him to the Nationalist Congress Party.
Echoing the demand being raised by Opposition parties and agricultural activists, Salve wanted the government to ensure that agricultural produce got a fair and remunerative price. The Devendra Fadnavis government has been highlighting the farm loan waiver as an important step to solve the agrarian crisis, but Salve pressed for the implementation of the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Commission report on agricultural reforms, submitted in 2006. His other demands included an enhanced Minimum Support Price (MSP) for cotton and soybean, online procurement of agriculture produce, and solution to issues faced by Marathwada farmers who have lost farm lands to the Krishna Marathwada Lift Irrigation Scheme.
After making it to the parapet unchecked, Salve had drawn the attention of policemen stationed below by throwing a chit of paper with his mobile number scribbled on it. Once contact was made, Salve, who repeatedly threatened to jump, demanded to see either Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis or Agriculture Minister Pandurang Fundkar. When it was conveyed to him that both were on a Vidarbha trip, Salve demanded to see Minister of State (Agriculture) Sadabhau Khot. But this could not be arranged as Khot was also away.
No senior minister was present at the Mantralaya when the incident was first reported. It was only 45 minutes later that MoS (Home-Urban) Ranjit Patil arrived, followed by Tawde, who cut short his meeting at Sasson Dock, and MoS (Home-Rural) Deepak Kesarkar. An unsuccessful attempt to make the farmer speak with Fundkar over the phone was made. While the policemen and fire brigade oversaw the rescue operation, senior bureaucrats from the relief and rescue operation weren’t seen at the site for at least an hour. While Bijay Kumar, Principal Secretary, Agriculture, was among those who tried to engage with the youth, he remained dissatisfied with the operation.
At one point, when a woman constable tried to reach the parapet, Salve took a broken piece of glass of a window pane and threatened to slit his throat, forcing her to retreat. With Salve repeatedly walking on the edge of the parapet, the Mumbai fire brigade had placed a safety net on the ground, and kept a rescue van ready.
It was only after the negotiators led by Additional Commissioner of Police (Protection) R D Shinde and comprising the three ministers passed on a sheet to Salve assuring to press for his demands that he agreed to walk back to safety.
“The first goal was to save the young farmer’s life,” said Tawde, while assuring that he would discuss the issues raised by him with the CM and Fundkar. Tawde said he had also requested the police not to slap a criminal case against the protester, which was also one of his demands.
Meanwhile, the Congress and the NCP targeted the government over the issue. The incident occurred a day before Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh’s visit to the state.