Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said his government was “sensitive and positive” towards the demands of farmers and tribals, who have marched from Nashik to Mumbai to draw the administration’s attention towards their problems. Fadnavis was responding to a discussion in the Assembly, initiated by Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who lauded the farmers participating in the ‘Kisan Long March’ for their peaceful protest while demanding a complete loan waiver and compensation for hailstorm and pink bollworm pest attack on crops. The Azad Maidan in South Mumbai turned into a sea as thousands of farmers, carrying red flags, converged after walking around 180 kms from the neighbouring Nashik district over the last six days. The farmers plan to surround the Assembly complex to press for their demands of an unconditional loan waiver, and transfer of forest land to tribal farmers who have been tilling it for years. The CPI(M)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha is spearheading the protest. “They (the protesting farmers) reached the Azad Maidan from the K J Somaiya Ground in the eastern suburbs so that students appearing for their board exams are not hassled due to traffic jams. The Mumbaikars are also taking care of them,” Vikhe Patil said in the House. He questioned the need for a ministerial committee to discuss the demands with leaders of the protesting farmers after they reached Mumbai. “Why couldn’t the government talk to them before the march began from Nashik on March 6. Such hardships for tribals and farmers could have been avoided,” Vikhe Patil said.
NCP leader Ajit Pawar also appreciated the protesters for not causing hardships to students appearing for exams. “All parties have supported their just demands. Instead of a ministerial committee, the chief minister should intervene immediately and take decisions on their demands. The government should ensure there is no law and order problem as the protesters have said they will not leave Mumbai until their demands are accepted,” Pawar said. Ganpatrao Deshmukh (of the Peasants and Workers Party) and Shamburaje Desai (of the Shiv Sena) also lauded the protesters for completing a peaceful and disciplined march from Nashik to Mumbai. He asked the government to take immediate decisions and give justice to the cultivators.
Replying to the discussion, Fadnavis said the demands of protestors were very important. “Around 90 to 95 per cent of the participants are poor tribals. They are fighting for forest land rights. They are landless and can’t do farming. The government is sensitive and positive towards their demands,” the chief minister said. “A ministerial committee has been formed to discuss the demands with protesters. We will take a decision to resolve their issues in a time-bound manner,” he said. Fadnavis said his government was in touch with the march organisers since March 6. “But they were adamant on the march. We tried to talk to them. All help was provided, like traffic management and deployment of medical vans,” he said. The committee formed to resolve the farmers’ issues includes revenue minister Chandrakant Patil, water resources minister Girish Mahajan, co-operation minister Subhash Deshmukh, public undertakings minister Eknath Shinde and tribal welfare minister Vishnu Savra.
The march has been organised to protest the alleged failures of the BJP government on the farm front, including non-implementation of recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and the Forest Rights Act. The farmers have demanded a change in the plan to link rivers in Nashik, Thane and Palghar districts so as to ensure that tribal lands are not submerged and water from the scheme be made available to these areas and other drought-prone districts. They are also protesting against the state government’s land acquisition for projects such as high speed rail and super highways. “We are demanding an increase in pension schemes for poor peasants and farm workers, compensation for losses due to pink bollworm and pest attacks and rehauling of the public distribution system,” the march organisers had earlier said.