On Sunday, farmers of Maharashtra brought their struggle against mounting debt and agrarian distress to the state’s capital.
After a 180-km journey on foot from Nashik that began on Tuesday, thousands of farmers crossed the Thane-Mumbai border, armed with a list of demands.
The protesting farmers, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha, congregated at the Somaiya Ground in Sion around 9 pm.
But the state government came up with a last-minute plan in view of Class 10 board exam in the city on Monday.
Instead of resting after a long day of continuous walking, the organisers and farmers took the difficult decision to continue walking well past midnight and make the 5-hour journey on foot to Azad Maidan, a large ground designated for protests in South Mumbai, about 15 km away.
They now intend to make their way to the state assembly, another 2 km away from Azad Maidan, on Monday morning.
The farmers plan to surround the Vidhan Sabha, blocking off access, and urge the government to meet their demands. These include a waiver of all loans and electricity bills and the implementation of the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers, also known as the Swaminathan Report.
The key recommendations of the report, submitted over 2005-’06, included reforms to protect farmers rights over their land and proper implementation of minimum support prices to ensure crops sell at competitive rates apart from crop insurance and credit schemes and measures to improve irrigation.
The protesters have received some support from Opposition parties and the Shiv Sena, which is an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the state but is often at loggerheads with it.
Farmers in Maharashtra, especially in the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, have been reeling under a series of crises, including consecutive years of drought followed by erratic rainfall, pest attacks and now, hailstorms. The Maharashtra government, led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, had announced a loan waiver last year but technical difficulties have delayed its disbursal.
With inputs from Shone Satheesh. All images by Shone Satheesh.