Day one of the farmers’ strike in Maharashtra saw supplies of fruits, vegetables and milk being hit in major cities like Mumbai and Pune. While members of Kisan Kranti, the umbrella organisation of farmers which spearheads this unique strike, maintained that theirs was an apolitical movement, Sadashiv Khot, minister of state for agriculture and marketing, said the protest was politically motivated and was being fomented by “people who have failed in their political career”.
Farmers across Maharashtra had decided to go on strike from June 1 as repeated talks with the state government had failed to resolve the stalemate. Yogesh Rayate, state level coordinator of Kisan Kranti said complete loan waiver of the farmers and implementation of the Swaminathan Committee’s recommendation about fixing of agricultural produce were their main demands. “As the state government failed to respond to our demands, we had no other option but to go on strike,” he said. In response, farmers across the state took to stopping vehicles of fruits, vegetables and milk towards urban areas. A call was also given to farmers not to provide milks to dairies and not to sell their agricultural produce in the wholesale markets.
As a result of the call, wholesale markets in Mumbai and Pune reported a sharp dip in arrival of fruits and vegetables on Thursday while markets in Nashik, Aurangabad and Ahmednagar were completely closed. Rajendra Shelke, president of the potato and onion sellers in the Vashi wholesale market in Mumbai, said there was a dip of 35 per cent in the arrival of vegetables. Dilip Khaire, chairman of the administrative board of Pune wholesale market, said there was a dip of 50 per cent in arrivals.
The onion market of Lasalagon in Nashik district was completely closed as not a single farmer came to sell his produce. Vashi traders maintained that in case the supply continues to get hit, the rise in the prices of commodities could not be ruled out. Stray incidents of violence were reported from Nashik, Ahmednagar and Pune where farmers took to damaging milk-carrying tankers as well as vandalising trucks carrying vegetables. In many areas, farmers emptied milk containers and dumped vegetables on the road. Police had reportedly taken action against some protesters in Nashik, Aurangabad etc.
Dairies across the state had reported a dip in procurement of milk as farmers refused to provide milk and at places stopped milk tankers. R S Sodhi, managing director of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) — the proprietor of Amul — said their milk procurement was hit in Maharashtra. Amul sells around 19 lakh litres of milk per day in the state and Mumbai is one of the major markets of the brand. “We procure around 10 lakh litres from the state and the procurement was less today.
In many places, the tankers were stopped,” he said. Sodhi said while they were able to deliver milk on Thursday, if the strike continues, milk shortage could not be ruled out. Kolhapur-based Warna Cooperative Dairy’s milk tanker was attacked allegedly on Wednesday night near Satra, when it was transporting milk to Mumbai. B B Bhandari, general manager (transport) of the dairy, said they supply around 2.5 lakh litres of milk to Mumbai and procurement of the same was hit. “We shall be transporting milk under police protection to Mumbai, but procurement has been hit,” he said.
An unfazed Khot said the state government will be able to ensure smooth supply of milk and vegetables to the urban areas. “The people who are behind this strike are failed politicians who do not want the farmers to prosper,” he said. Khot said the government was ready to talk and the on-going strike was not the solution. Rayate and other Kisan Kranti members, however, refuted Khot’s charges.