Maharashtra, currently suffering from severe rainfall shortage in the Marathwada and Vidarbha districts, has the unwanted distinction of being home to the highest number of farmer suicides in the country. On Tuesday, March 29, thirty-thousand farmers, with support from the left-allied All India Kisan Sabha, organised a protest seeking a comprehensive and coherent list of demands to be met by the state government.
Loan waivers, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations on minimum support price for farm goods, and better drought relief measures were among their list of demands. The farmers also asked for Rs. 50,000 per acre of crops destroyed, and land rights for tenant farmers. Apart from such measures, those present were also protesting against the silencing of dissenting voices across the country, especially on university campuses.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury was present, and addressed the crowd. “Not just farmers, our children in university after university are being frightened and called deshdrohis. You are also in danger of being labelled thus for showing dissent,” he said speaking up against intolerance.
Camping in the centre of Nashik, the morcha started at 7pm with organisations such as the CPM and CITU in support. As the agitation reached the Central Bus Stand (CBS) next to the collector’s buildings and Nashik Court, the protesters settled there and even slept in the main square. Major traffic jams ensued with movement of vehicles across the city being disrupted, and attendance in schools and colleges dropped due to the strike.
From January to October 2015 alone, about 2,590 farmer suicides have been recorded, which is the highest number since 2001. Between 2001 and 2014, 17,276 farmers committed suicide, owing to loan defaults, crop failure and so on.
On Wednesday, the Vidhan Bhavan saw a delegate of Kisan Sabha leaders meet with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who has offered to make a proposal to the Centre regarding the loan waiver demand, but no confirmation or assurance on the same was given. However, one major assurance was made. The current law grants traditional cultivators land rights, while a large number of claims made by adivasi and non-adivasi cultivators over forest land have been rejected. As Dr. Ashok Dhawle of the All India Kisan Sabha told The Indian Express, “The chief minister promised that collectors of districts where such lands are being tilled will be directed to re-examine all claims within three months. As per law, only two proofs are required for such land rights to be granted and the CM said this will be followed.”