Close to 30,000 farmers are marching towards Mumbai to stage a protest outside the state legislature against the government’s response to the distress in the state’s farm sector. The farmers’ “long march” has been called by Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha (ABKS) which is affiliated to the CPI (M) and the farmers are expected to reach Mumbai on Sunday. On Friday, the farmers reached Bhatsa river in Thane district where over 5,000 people from Palghar district joined the march. The farmers had started their march on Tuesday from the CBS Chowk in Nashik, the location of the March 2016 demonstration when close to one lakh farmers had gathered for two days. The farmers will cover 35 kilometers daily, on an average.
Some of the demands of the farmers include a complete farm loan waiver, transfer of forest land to tillers, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations, compensation of Rs 40,000 per acre to farmers hit by hailstorm and pink bollworm, and putting a stop to sharing the state’s water with Gujarat. Apart from middle-aged farmers and youngsters, a large number of women and senior citizens are part of the march. The Peasants and Workers Party and CPI also extended support to the long march. About one lakh people are likely to join the march when it reaches Mumbai, claimed ABKS leaders.
Ajit Nawale, the state general secretary of the Kisan Sabha, said though these demands were raised two years ago, there has been no progress. “We don’t want announcements, we want it to happen. We have given enough time to the state government to act on our issues. Now, we will not leave the Assembly premises until our issues are resolved,” said Nawale, adding that many farmers would join the march over the next two days.
JP Gavit, a CPI(M) legislator from Kalwan constituency in Nashik, said the state should improve implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. “Though the Act came in 2006 and the rules came in 2008, the government is not implementing it effectively. As per the Act, only 5 or 10 gunthas is being given to farmers, which is nothing. The farmers can’t do anything with it. We just want the land that tribals have been tilling for decades to be given to them. It may be five, seven or ten acres,” said Gavit.
Gavit said they oppose any move to share river water with Gujarat through agreements. “Instead of giving water to Gujarat, it should be diverted to drought-hit parts of the state,” he said. Meanwhile, the Maharashtra police played down the number of farmers taking part in the agitation. According to a senior police officer, the crowd at Thane was not more than 20,000. However, this is set to increase multi-fold when the march reaches Mumbai. The official added that they expect around 50,000 to 60,000 protestors in Mumbai. According to the police, the farmers are using social media to galvanise people. “Social media is being used to spread the message and ask more and more people to join in,” added the source.
“While the agitators claim that one lakh farmers will join the protest, our estimates reveal that the number won’t cross 60,000,” said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Sources, however, expressed apprehensions over farmers being allowed to reach the venue. When reached for a comment, Joint Commissioner of Police (law and order), Mumbai, Deven Bharti, said, “Peaceful demonstration in accordance with the prevailing law and rule is the democratic right of every citizen.”