What is the forest land issue and why did the large majority of farmer-protesters in Mumbai comprise those seeking implementation of the Forest Rights Act?
Through the late 1990s and early years of the last decade, Maharashtra’s tribal communities were at the forefront of agitations seeking a rights-based approach to their role in forest management. Yet, while Maharashtra is by far the top performer among all states on implementing the law, by acknowledging and according individual forest rights with land titles for those tilling forest land for generations and community forest rights for management of forest resources and produce – there continue to be wide disparities. Thousands of those who marched to Mumbai were tribals from Thane, Palghar, Nashik and Nandurbar, and had stories of applying under the Forest Rights Act, 2006 for rights over such land they have been tilling since pre-Independence, but frustrated either by the slow pace of approvals, or by their applications rejected or appeals kept pending. In many places, Community Forest Rights and Individual Forest Rights titles have been given but found to be faulty. Other areas have CFR areas recognised but limited to smaller areas than claimed. Scores of Gram Sabhas have filed fresh CFR claims in such cases. Monday’s announcement implies that all these bottlenecks will be eased in six months through the formation of a special committee headed by the chief secretary. If the government keeps this promise, it would be a prodigious success for the protesters and the government alike.
On the farm loan waiver already implemented by the state, what changes have now been announced and who stands to benefit?
Keen to send a message that it is sensitive to the demands of the farmer community, the Maharashtra government made a series of wide-ranging announcements on Monday. Just months after it described its farm loan waiver as the “biggest in Maharashtra’s history”, the government has nearly accepted all demands made by the protesting farmers regarding the waiver, demand that it be a condition-free loan waiver.
Multiple members of a single family can now avail the loan waiver, subject to the ceiling of Rs 1.5 lakh. Tribals with farm loans dating back to 2001-2008 will now be included in the scheme, announced earlier for the 2009-2016 period. The alterations will now ensure that thousands more are benefited by the waiver.
What other demands were made and what is their status?
When CPI (M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said at Azad Maidan on Monday that farmers were the “new soldiers” of India, he was referring to the speed with which their demands were accepted, almost entirely, by the government. On the demand for new ration cards to replace those that are torn or damaged, the government has promised to issue new cards.
On the Mimimum Support Price as prescribed by the Swaminathan Committee, the government said the Centre has already committed this. Their concerns on water conservation projects and the Nar-Par and Damanganga and Girnar river-linking projects were also taken into account.
Who is to be credited for the farmers’ demands being met just hours after they arrived in Mumbai?
The All India Kisan Sabha, which called for the long march and mobilised the nearly 40,000 tribals and farmers, has said the stir by farmers may end for now, but would continue later if the farmer community feels the assurances were not kept. But the government’s fleetfooted handling of the stir, threatening to be an embarrassment with television visuals of the huge crowds of farmers peacefully walking through Mumbai sporting red caps and carrying red banners and flags, was also on account of the movement’s ability to woo the opposition Congress, NCP, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and also the Shiv Sena, which is part of the BJP-led government.
Responding to jibes on social media that the Sena was diluting its commitment to saffron by allying with those carrying red flags, Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray tweeted on Monday that he met the protesters and found their blood to be red, “the same as ours”.