India’s agrarian economy lacks innovation in agriculture; every year ministers visit various countries to learn about farming and modern techniques but that remains as a foreign picnic and the projects get sealed in files. Farmers in Maharashtra, which is presently ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party, have resorted to agitation over a wide-range of issues concerning their livelihood. Farmers’ problems should be understood sensitively and practical solutions must be found for them. Problems of a farmer are mainly infrastructural and economic. The biggest hurdle to all this is the absence of technological resources and education. There is a need to change the agrarian policy and the government has to ensure that farmers get a proper price for their produce. No government can remain insensitive on the questions related to farmers and it must find ways to address their problems. It is their job to think and find a solution.
This is the third time since BJP came to power, as farmers continue to protest every year but their problems remain unresolved. While campaigning for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Narendra Modi in his speeches gave assurance that he will do justice to farmers and jawans. Modi openly announced that he will not let them suffer; but once he and his government came to power, both these sections suffered the maximum. Look at those 50,000 farmers who walked 180 kms, demanding appropriate compensation for their crop. On their last stretch, they walked all night making sure they didn’t disturb the SSC board examinations.
As the protesting farmers entered Mumbai in the scorching heat, I was really moved and happy and thought that if not government, Mumbaikars welcomed them stretching their arms wide open. Mumbaikars turned up to them with refreshments at Mulund, Vikhroli and Ghatkopar. The tired farmers made their way to the KJ Somaiya ground where authorities requested them to terminate their march, instead of walking to Vidhan Bhavan, citing SSC board exams as a reason. The protesters showed consideration towards the students and agreed to march on Sunday night instead of the next morning.
The compromise came after the government showed readiness to negotiate with them. It sent an emissary to speak to the march leaders, before the farmers reached their night halt venue — KJ Somaiya ground. Medical education minister Girish Mahajan invited a delegation of the long march leaders, after their six days of walking in the scorching heat, at Vikhroli police station to discuss their problems, and also extended an invitation for a talk with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
The farmers are upset with the government for not offering them a complete loan waiver, besides severa other issues. Their demands include a complete loan waiver, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations, which gives a fair price for farm produce, change in the river-linking scheme, proposed to be implemented in Nashik, Thane and Palghar, so that tribal areas don’t get submerged, and the government paying their electricity bills. The BJP had made the implementation of the report, tabled a decade ago, a campaign promise during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The demands are not new. Farmers have also asked for a cap on import of farm produce and an increase in import duty to safeguard the interests of the farm sector.
The government was ready to discuss their demands. But the leaders told the minister that the government must assure them in writing that all demands would be met, or they would lay siege to Vidhan Bhavan. After summoning Agriculture Minister Pandurang Phundkar from Akola, Fadnavis held a meeting of bureaucrats. He has set up a committee of six ministers — Phundkar, Chandrakant Patil, Girish Mahajan, Eknath Shinde, Subhash Deshmukh and Vishnu Savra — to discuss demands with the protesting farmers.
Meanwhile, opposition parties did not leave the opportunity to score some political mileage by showing support to the march. After NCP declared its support to the protest, the Congress too jumped in the fray with Ashok Chavan tweeting support to the farmers and taking a dig at the CM. MNS chief Raj Thackeray greeted the farmers at Azad Maidan, after Yuva Sena president Aaditya Thackeray went to meet the protesting leaders on Sunday afternoon.
From 2013 to 2015, successive poor monsoons exacerbated farmer woes. Frustration grew when, after a satisfactory monsoon in 2016 and a good crop, demonetisation and the resultant currency crunch meant that the Rabi produce failed to earn profitable prices. Note ban also hit district central cooperative banks, the backbone of the State’s crop loan system; DCCBs are now sitting on over Rs 2,700 crore in demonetised currency, which the Centre is refusing to exchange for new notes. This has raised questions about their lending capacity, and they face the danger of being wiped out. In addition, heeding the Prime Minister’s 2016 exhortation to grow more pulses, many farmers invested heavily in their cultivation.
This resulted in a glut in the market. Traders made a killing because they were able to buy at lower rates, and when the Minimum Support Price (MSP) kicked in, they sold at the MSP, leading to more farmer fury.
(This is the first part of the editorial and remaining portion will continue tomorrow.)
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