A meeting of farmer leaders with Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and other political leaders was held at Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai on Monday afternoon, ANI reported. The farmers called off their protest after the Bharatiya Janata Party-led state government agreed to most of their demands.
Earlier in the day, around 30,000 protesting farmers from the state had reached South Mumbai’s Azad Maidan amid heightened security.
A delegation led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha reached the Assembly around 1 pm to meet Fadnavis.
In the state Assembly, Fadnavis said his government was “sensitive and positive” to the demands of the protesting farmers and tribals. He said the government would make a decision on resolving their concerns in a “time-bound manner”, PTI reported.
Fadnavis said “around 90%-95%” of the protestors were “poor tribals” who wanted forest land rights. He said the government had been in touch with the organisers of the protest since early March, but they were “adamant on the march”.
“We tried to talk to them,” Fadnavis said. “All help was provided, including traffic management and deployment of medical vans.”
After a 180-km journey on foot from Nashik, which began on March 6, thousands of farmers crossed the Thane-Mumbai border on Sunday, armed with a list of demands. The farmers want a complete waiver of loans and electricity bills and the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations on providing minimum support prices and safeguarding the interests of small farmers.
After reaching Azad Maidan, the farmers had planned to march to the Vidhan Bhavan at 9 am on Monday and block access to the state legislature building, where security has been tightened. They decided to hold off their plan till after their delegation meets Fadnavis. The farmers want a written assurance from the government that their demands will be met.
Fadnavis has formed a inter-ministerial committee to look into the farmers’ demands. The committee comprises Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil, Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan, Co-operation Minister Subhash Deshmukh, Tribal Welfare Minister Vishnu Savra, and Eknath Shinde, the public undertakings minister.
The farmers had congregated at the Somaiya Ground in Sion around 9 pm on Sunday. Instead of resting there for the day as planned, they marched through the night and made the five-hour journey on foot to Azad Maidan, a large ground about 18 km away in South Mumbai where protests are often staged.
“We don’t want to create a problem for exam going students of Class 10,” Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha President Ashok Dhawale told Firstpost. “We don’t mind suffering more but we don’t want our students to suffer.”
Estimates of the number of protestors are hugely varied, with government officials saying there are only around 7,000 people, and only 450 to 500 farmers, the rest being tribals. Other reports, however, said there are about 30,000 farmers heading towards the state Assembly.
The protestors have received some support from Opposition parties and the Shiv Sena, which is an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra but is often at loggerheads with it. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena President Raj Thackeray also extended support to the farmers. State Cabinet minister Girish Mahajan, who joined the farmers around 3 am, told NDTV that the government had been monitoring the march since it began.
The Aam Aadmi Party also extended support to the farmers on the march.
Consecutive droughts, variable rainfall, increasing debt, pink bollworm pest attacks and recurring hailstorms have taken a huge toll on the farmers of Marathwada and Vidarbha. Crops of wheat, gram, sorghum, onion, grapes, oranges, and cotton were affected in 19 districts of the state during hailstorms.
The Maharashtra government had started disbursing the loan waiver amounts to farmers’ accounts in October 2017, four months after it had announced the scheme. The move was expected to benefit nearly 89 lakh farmers, but was plagued by technical difficulties.