When foodgivers walked 180 km seeking enough food for themselves
Ajit Navale is busier than usual these days. The doctor has to attend patients at his hospital at Akole, a taluka place 20-km off the Pune-Nashik highway, as well as meet many a well-wisher who is walking in to congratulate him. The achievement, though, is outside his profession.
Navale was one of the key brains behind organising the Kisan Long March, the recent farmers’ procession in Maharashtra that caught the attention of the whole nation, and has been seen as a success. The doctor who is familiar with distress that the agrarian community around him faces, has always been there to fight for farmers’ rights. He was part of the farmer strike that started spontaneously on June 1, 2017 from Nashik and spread to other parts of the country, and resulted in the death of some protesting farmers in police firing in Madhya Pradesh.
That strike had forced the Maharashtra government to announce a loan waiver scheme for farmers who could not repay their crop loans taken between 2009 and 2016. Eight months since announcing the waiver, only about 40% of the 89 lakh eligible farmers could get at least some relief. This was one of the triggers for the latest agitation.
The Maharashtra unit of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), at a meeting held at Sangli on February 15, decided to try another form of protest. It decided to hold a long march of farmers from Nashik to the state capital of Mumbai nearly 180 kilometres away, and picket the assembly when it was in session. Navale is the state general secretary of the AIKS. The march started from Nashik on March 6 with participation of about 10,000-12,000 farmers. The number swelled to more than 30,000 by the time it reached Mumbai on March 12.
The AIKS, which is linked to the Communist Party of India (Marxist), has its base mainly in the tribal areas of Nashik, Thane, Palghar and Ahmednagar districts. That meant, many of the participants of the march were tribal people. But, many of those who joined the march later didn’t even belong to the Kisan Sabha. There was widespread anger among farmers, not just because of the slow implementation of the loan waiver scheme, but also over not getting remunerative price for their produce.
Fifty-year-old Krishnabai Jambukar from Akole, for instance, wants at least Rs 15 a kg for the onions she grows as a sharecropper. She gets only Rs 4-8 in the wholesale market.
Farmer organisations across the country have agreed on two common demands to raise with the authorities: a price of at least 1.5 times the cost for their produce and a full loan waiver. The Swaminathan commission that studied the issue of farmer suicides had recommended the government to ensure a return of 1.5 times the cost of production. “A farmer commits suicide, because for generations he has been getting negative net returns. Farming is in loss because the government interferes and manipulates prices of farm produce to ensure urban consumers get cheaper food and industries get cheap raw material,” Navale said. P Chengal Reddy, the chief adviser to the Consortium of Indian Farmers’ Organisations, linked farmers’ miseries with government policies. “For example, the import and export policies are always controlled by vested interests. Huge quantities of pulses and edible oil allowed to be imported in the country despite local farmers not getting remunerative prices for both,” he said.
A complete loan waiver is the other primary demand . Asking for loan waiver is neither begging nor asking for a favour, Navale said. “It is Loot Vapasi. Generations of farmers have been robbed of their rightful income. We are asking for its partial return by way of loan waivers.” Senior journalist Sunil Tambe explained the economic rationale behind loan waivers: “The farmer has to pay upfront for buying inputs from corporates but has no control on market prices. He has to bear the risk of production and marketing. Loan waiver is that temporary relief which can help farming come out of the intensive care unit to the normal hospital bed.”
By BOA Bureau