The district administration, however, has adopted a tough stance. Collector Astik Pandeya said, “we have accepted six of the seven demands and have requested them to wind up the agitation. If they insist on the seventh demand too, we will not honour even the first six promises.”
The seven demands made by Sinha are compensation to cotton farmers for losses incurred due to pink bollworm infestation, action against seed companies manufacturing bogus Bt seeds, bank officials and administration should execute loan waivers by personally going to gram panchayats, 100 per cent compensation for crop losses to moong, udid and soyabean farmers, the uninterrupted power supply to agricultural pump sets, removal of unjust conditions from the gold mortgage waiver scheme of the State government for farmers and purchase of all farm produce at minimum support price by NAFED.
“Except for the last one, which is a call to be taken by the Central government, we have accepted all six demands and have requested the protesters led by Sinha to call off their stir,” Pandeya added.
Sinha, however, told The Indian Express, “I am determined to stay here till all demands are met. The excuse about NAFED purchase is not valid as BJP-ruled states like MP and Gujarat have been procuring the produce through their own procurement systems. Why can’t the Maharashtra government then do it?”
Sinha, who arrived in Akola three days ago to participate in the Kapus Soyabean Dhan (cotton, soyabean, paddy) Parishad, had been “detained” by police near the Collectorate. He has, since then, sat on a dharna to press for the seven demands.
“After detention around 5.15 pm, he and around 150-odd farmers were taken to the police headquarters. Around 9.30, they were told that they are free and can go. But they decided to stay put. So we provided them with food, water, blankets and toilet facilities,” Akola Superintendent of Police M Rajesh Kalasagar told The Indian Express.
Rebel BJP MP from Bhandara-Gondia constituency, Nana Patole, was supposed to join Sinha at the Sunday event. Patole himself had announced Sinha’s participation at a press conference here last month. A day before the parishad was to begin, however, Patole excused himself from the programme on the pretext of his “only niece’s marriage” on the same day. When contacted, Patole said on Tuesday that he was heading for Akola. “Since the situation has worsened, I have decided to go. If it further worsens, leaders like Arun Shourie, Shatrughna Sinha and Varun Gandhi may also join,” he said.
Talking to The Indian Express over the telephone, Sinha dismissed suggestions that his agitation carries political overtones. “What is political about it? Am I going to contest from Akola? I have long taken a leave from electoral politics,” he said.
Asked why he chose to come to Akola and fight for the farmers in Maharashtra when there are farmers’ problems in his home state of Jharkhand, Sinha said, “that’s a good question. It so happened that after my September 27 article in The Indian Express, a lot of people took notice and called me. The local SJM also invited me to Akola to deliver a lecture on demonetization and GST on October 15. At that time, a lot of farmers also came to meet me and apprised me of their problems. I found the problems to be very serious since Vidarbha is notorious for farmers’ suicides, more problems for farmers could lead to more suicides. So I decided to agitate for them.”
Asked why he was pressing for higher compensation (cost of production plus 50 per cent extra) to farmers when it was a political promise made by Narendra Modi and didn’t conform to the wisdom of economics, Sinha said, “there is no question of economics here. We need to remind the government that this is the promise they had made and so they should fulfil it.”
Sinha further said, “I am of the opinion that the farm insurance scheme should be replaced with income insurance scheme for farmers which is quite doable. The governments dole out loan waivers wort several thousand of crores of rupees. Instead why not compensate the farmers with assured income insurance on annual basis? The per acre expected income for farmers has been standardised for all crops. The government should ensure that the farmers get that income without fail.”
Asked if the Chief Minister spoke to him, Sinha said, “no. The District Guardian Minister Ranjit Patil was here yesterday for Janata Darbar. But he also didn’t meet us.”
Asked how long would he continue his agitation, Sinha said, “the farmers want me to stay with them. So as long as the last demand is not met, I will continue the agitation.”