As Swabhimani Paksha MP Raju Shetti starts his agitation for remunerative price of onions at Chakan on Thursday, the fight of farmers to get fair price for the bulb seems to have come a full circle. For it was in Chakan that the legendary farmers’ leader Sharad Joshi had first organised a massive protest to demand better prices for onions.
After resigning from his job in the United Nations, Joshi had settled in the village of Ambethan near Chakan in Pune to lead a farmer’s life. Back in 1979, when onion prices were at an all-time low, Joshi decided to go on a confrontation to highlight the issue.
Villagers of Ambethan recall how Joshi asked them to take their produce of onion and block the Pune-Nashik Highway. This, Joshi hoped, would draw urban attention to a problem which was brewing in the rural heartlands.
Elderly villagers of Ambethan still recall how they travelled in bullock carts and tractors carrying their onions to block the Pune-Nashik Highway. While the protest failed to attract much attention in its initial days, it shook the authorities when it continued unabated for quite some time.
Stinking piles of rotten onions had filled up the highway and police had arrested many of the protesters. The Chakan protest, Joshi used to say, showed him how to draw attention to the problems of farmers which he used later on during his long and cherished career. Since then, Joshi’s tactic has been used by almost all farmer leaders in the state, most of whom regard Joshi as their mentor.
Shetti too has time and again used this method to draw attention to the issue. He and his Swabhimani Shetkari Sanga-thana had resorted to rasta roko to protest non-payment of dues to cane farmers, or low prices of milk. However this would be the first time Shetti is agitating about onions at Chakan.
On Thursday, Shetti’s agitation would try to highlight the decline in the prices of onion, which has led to a crisis among the growers in the state. Wholesale price of the bulb at the Lasalgon Market has been hovering around Rs 7.50 per kg. Growers in Nashik, Pune Aurangabad and Ahmednagar have been protesting against the price decline over the last few weeks.
“When price of the bulb shoots up, the government intervenes to stablisie it. But when farmers are bleeding due to low prices, why is the government silent?” asks Shetti.
Other than increased government procurement, Shetti wants an online system to track the storage of onions. “The government should not interfere in the onion market. Let the market forces decide the price, else the government should step in when farmers fail to realise the prices,” he said.