Around 15,000 farmers of the All Indian Kisan Sabha (AIKS), who started on the “Long March of the Farmers” to Mumbai from Nashik last week, met a government panel on March 12.
The farmers have agreed to withdraw the protest after the Fadnavis-led government gave assurance in writing that their demands will be fulfilled.
Around 35,000 farmers from Nashik, Maharashtra, set out on March 6 to Mumbai to demand that the government fulfill its promises to them, which are chiefly loan waivers, profitable prices for their produce, and title to forest land. Traversing 180 kms on foot, they reached Mumbai on Sunday. They had intended to gherao the Mantralaya, Maharashtra’s legislative assembly, on Monday, to voice their demands.
What is the Kisan Long March?
Thousands of farmers started their 180-km long march from Nashik to Mumbai last week, to demand that the government fulfill its promises to them. The number soon grew to 35,000 as many more joined them along the way. The march was organised by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), a farmers’ association affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
What are their demands?
Here are the top demands of the farmers:
- An unconditional waiver of their loans and electricity bills.
- A Minimum Support Price (MSP) that is 1.5 times the input cost of the produce
- Immediate implementation of the recommendations put forward by the M.S. Swaminathan Commission, which are in the interest of farmers
- Compensation for loss of crops due to unseasonal rains, pink bollworm infestation, and hailstorms
- Implementation of Forest Rights Act, which entitles tribal communities to forest land
- Termination of the forceful acquisition of farm lands for developmental projects such as super highways and bullet trains
What do forest lands have to do with an agrarian protest?
Thousands among those who joined the march are tribals and landless farmers who are dependent on forest lands and forest resources for eking out a livelihood. They, however, do not have title to the very land they till or use for economic activities: conflicting implementation of the Forest Rights Act brought control over such lands under the forest department.
The Forest Rights Act seeks to provide land title to such communities and thus secure their livelihood. However, according to a 2017 report by the Community Forest Rights- Learning and Advocacy Group Maharashtra, implementation of the Act is far from perfect. Dr. Geetanjoy Sahu, one of the authors of the report, has stated that this is due to “political challenges”.
Dwindling agricultural income, drought,and unfavourable pricing policies render the livelihood of such landless farmers more onerous. The landless farmers have pinned their hopes on the government transferring to them title to the forest land they cultivate.
What is the Swaminathan Commission? What are its recommendations?
The government of India set up the National Commission on Farmers (NCF), with Professor M.S. Swaminathan as the chairperson. It was constituted to address the growing farmer distress and the rising number of farmer suicides in India. The Swaminathan Commission submitted five reports in total, with the fifth report containing vital recommendations for the inclusive growth of farmers and the agricultural sector. Here is a snapshot of the recommendations made by the Commission:
- Distribute ceiling-surplus and waste lands
- Prevent the diversion of agricultural and forest land for non-agricultural purposes
- Allow grazing rights to tribals and pastoralists and also allow them seasonal access to forests
- Provide them access to common property resources
- Provide sustained and equitable access to water for all farmers
- Increase water supply through rainwater harvesting, mandatory recharge of aquifers
- Launch “Million Wells Recharge” programme, targeting private wells
- Implement new schemes for groundwater recharge
Productivity of agriculture
- Increase public investment in irrigation, drainage, land development, water conservation, research development, etc. substantially
- Set up a national network of advanced soil testing laboratories with facilities for detection of micronutrient deficiencies.
- Promote conservation farming, which will enable farmers to conserve soil health, water quality, and biodiversity.
Credit and insurance
- Expand the outreach of the formal credit system to reach the really poor farmers
- Reduce rate of interest for crop loans to 4 per cent simple, with government support
- Announce moratorium on debt recovery, including loans from non-institutional sources, and waive interest on loans in distress hotspots and during calamities, till capability is restored
- Establish an Agriculture Risk Fund to provide relief to farmers in the aftermath of successive natural calamities
- Issue Kisan Credit Cards to women farmers, with joint pattas as collateral
- Develop an integrated credit-cum-crop-livestock-human health insurance package
- Expand crop insurance cover to cover the entire country and all crops, with reduced premiums
- Create a Rural Insurance Development Fund to spread rural insurance
- Implement a universal public distribution system
- Reorganise the delivery of nutrition support programmes to include participation of Panchayats and local bodies
- Promote the establishment of Community Food and Water Banks operated by Women Self-help Groups (SHG)
- Formulate a National Food Guarantee Act continuing the useful features of the Food for Work and Employment Guarantee programmes
You can access the full list of recommendations and observations here.
What has the Maharashtra government assured the farmers of?
Irrigation Minister Girish Mahajan said the government has “agreed on 100% demands”, including transfer of title to land, reported The Hindu. The government has given its assurance in writing that all the farmers’ demands will be fulfilled.
Is this the first farmer protest?
There have been multiple protests and demonstrations by farmers from Maharashtra over the past two years.
A similar protest was organised in March 2016 by the AIKS. Around 40,000 protesters spent two days at the CBS Square in Nashik city, some of them blocking the highway. The government invited a delegation for talks after the March 2016 protest as well.
In October 2016, over 15,000 tribals from Palghar district attempted to surround the home of Tribal Development Minister Vishnu Savara. Hundreds of those tribals from Palghar were part of the march this week.
In June 2017, various farmer leaders came together, though rifts appeared in the end. The current march is conspicuously missing large populations of western Maharashtra farmers, according to The Indian Express.
Farmer protests also took place in Madhya Pradesh in June 2017, demanding loan waivers. Police opened fire on the farmers, killing five. Farmers of Tamil Nadu have also been protesting since 2016, demanding drought relief. This was one of the most gory protests, yet had little effect on the Centre.