Ahead of the sowing season, farmers have hit the streets against the BJP-led combine’s alleged anti-farmer policies. From May 22 to May 30, 15,000-odd farmers joined the Atmakalesh Yatra (Repentance march) — a statewide campaign led by farmers’ leader and MP Raju Shetti.
Forty-year-old Manik Kadam from Parbhani said, “I decided to join the protest instead of wasting time on my farm when I have no money to buy crops.” Kadam said when no ministers were taking note of their protest, how will they bail them out of the crisis. “We have suffered drought since 2013- 2015, incurred huge losses and have no money to repay our loans. This year, we had a good produce. However, due to demonetisation we had no profits. If we invest Rs 100, we hardly earn Rs 40.”
Before 2005, Kadam owned 25 acres of land and boasted being in the list of ‘rich people’ of Aarvi village in Parbhani. In 2007 Kadam took a loan of Rs 6 lakh to buy a tractor but is yet to repay it. The amount has now increased to Rs 10 lakh. He claims he had to sell 10 acres of his land to support his sons’ education. “If the government is in no mood for loan waiver scheme, then at least implement minimum support price (MSP) for crops so that we are able to repay the loan on our own,” said Kadam.
According to these farmers, when they reached Mumbai, most of them had to spend the night on footpaths and in parks.
Another farmer, Devendra Bhuyar (29) from Amravati district, said, “Nobody wants to farm anymore. All my friends have gone to either Pune or Mumbai for better jobs and marriage prospects,” said Bhuyar, who has an outstanding loan of 10 lakh. Bhoyar owns 11 acres of land which he primarily uses to cultivate cotton, tur, and oranges.
“Every day, we receive news of neighbours committing suicide, because they can’t see their land or houses being auctioned. The present state of rural Maharashtra is very disturbing and we are scared,” said Bhuyar.
Thirty-two-year-old Bharat Waghmare has been struggling to repay a Rs 3 lakh loan he had taken in 2014 . Resident of Somthana village in Buldhana district said that despite a good produce this year, their payments are pending. “The government purchased 12 quintals of tur dal from me this year, the payment is still pending,” said Waghmare who owns 10 acres where he cultivates soyabean, tur and urad.
Maharashtra has reported 852 farmers’ suicides in the four months between January to April this year, according to government data.
Rasika Dhage (28) left her two-year-old son back home in Parbhani along with her husband to participate in the march. “This is the last resort for us. Our land is lying useless, and the government hasn’t helped ever. The loans cannot be repaid, even with the mortgage attached,” said Dhage, who has a 10 acre land in Parbhani district. Her loans amount to 2 lakh.
However, Dhage says her hopes are low. “The government didn’t help us in the past, and didn’t even send a representative to meet us at the yatra. I highly doubt the loan will be waived off.” Most of the 15,000 people who marched with Shetti are back in their home districts. “We had to get back the same night, otherwise there was a chance of missing the first rains for the kharif season. We can’t afford another season of wasted yields,” said Prahlad Ingole, a farmer from Nanded.
The farmers are demanding a farm loan waiver and higher minimum support price (MSP) for crops. Other demands include free power supply for agricultural pumps, interest-free loans, and implementation of the Swam-inathan Committee’s recommendations.