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Maharashtra farmers call off strike after talks with Fadnavis, only to say it's back on

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 3 June 2017, 20:05 IST

The historical strike started by farmers in Maharashtra was called off after 48 hours of violent protests. However, it seems to be back on after the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana declared on Saturday that the strike would go on till all their demands are met.

The initial call to withdraw the strike came after farmer-leaders met CM Devendra Fadnavis at his residence late last night. The decision was taken after a three-hour long marathon discussion, which began at midnight, with Fadnavis when the government assured they would fulfill almost all the farmers' demands.

Core committee representatives of the Kisan Kranti Jan Andolan announced that the strike was called off after the CM’s assurances. However, the decision has not gone down well with the farmers and some of them have decided to continue the strike and violent protests continued in Ahmednagar and Nashik districts.

What was discussed in the marathon meeting?

At the meeting with Fadnavis, the farmer representatives discussed their demands with the CM and he apparently assured the committee that the crop loan waiver would be worked out for small and marginal farmers by 31 October this year.

Out of the 13.7 million farmers in the state, 78% are small and marginal who will get the benefit of the decision if it is carried out.

“We had demanded a complete loan waiver for all the farmers. But the option suggested by the chief minister is more feasible. Since the government has accepted around 70% of our demands, we decided to call off the strike,” said Jayajirao Suryavanshi, of Kisan Kranti Jan Andolan, who spearheaded the strike.

The core committee, in a meeting held at Puntamba village in Ahmednagar district where the strike began, had given a call of Maharashtra Bandh on 5 June, to lock government offices on 6 June and to lock offices of MPs and MLAs on 7 June.

“Since the CM has given us hearing and assured to fulfill most of the demands we have decided not to continue with the programme decided yesterday. Though we have called off the strike, it does not mean that we have surrendered to the government. We can again go on strike if the government fails to abide by the time-bound programme to meet the demands,” Suryavanshi said.

However, there is a great deal of confusion as one section of the core committee has refused to settle down for anything less than a complete loan waiver for all farmers.

This section led by Sandip Gidde, from Puntamba, said, “The strike will continue till the government fulfills all the demands in the total. We will not compromise with our demands. The strike will continue and the decisions taken in yesterday’s meeting will be implemented from 5 June.”

The core committee had demanded implementation of the recommendations made by the Swaminathan Committee that include:

– Farm produce should get Minimum Support Price (MSP) at 50% above the production cost

– Farm loan waiver

– Interest-free loan to farmers

– Pension for farmers above the age of 60 years

– Price of Rs 50 per litre for milk

– Uninterrupted power supply

– 100% subsidy on drip and sprinkler irrigation systems

The other side

“A committee comprising government officials farmers’ representatives, will be formed to study the issue and ensure that the benefit reaches each and every eligible farmer. This scheme will benefit those farmers whose crop loan had turned ‘outstanding’ after 2012. This will also make them eligible for fresh loans,” Fadnavis said while addressing the media at 3AM.

The government has also decided that purchasing farm produce below MSP would be made a criminal offence.

“A legislation to this effect would be brought in the monsoon session of the Assembly. The government will also form a commission for agriculture cost and prices on the lines of a similar commission under Union Ministry of Agriculture. The commission will be formed within a month. It has also been decided to raise milk prices so that farmers who supply to the milk cooperatives get the benefit. The quantum of the price rise will be decided by 20 June,” Fadnavis said.

There was also a decision taken to waive off interest and penalty on farmers' pending electricity bills.

Not enough

Dr Ajit Navle, general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Sabha, who was also part of the core committee that met the chief minister, however, refused to accept the decision.

“We had demanded a complete loan waiver and implementation of Swaminathan Commission recommendations. But chief minister was not clear on the limit of the crop loan to be waived off. This will be decided within four months. This does not mean that farmers have got loan waiver. The farmers have been fooled once again. The government has not accepted the demand to implement recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee. Neither has the demand of pension to the farmers been accepted. There is no clarity in any of the assurances given by the government as nothing will be implemented with immediate effect,” Navle said.

He claimed that he had pleaded with the core committee members during the meeting not to accept the proposals of the government and discuss them with the farmers at Puntamba first.

“But no one paid heed to my pleas. It appeared that everything was pre-decided. Hence I walked out of the meeting,” Navle said.

As an after thought, Suryavanshi later apologised for calling off the strike in a jiffy.

“We made a mistake by calling off the strike. I will go back to Puntamba and discuss the issue with other members of the Kisan Kranti Jan Andolan to decide the future course of action,” Suryavanshi said.

Suryavanshi's hasty decision and subsequent back-tracking drew a lot of flack from the other committee members who did not agree with him.

Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetty said, “Jayajirao Suryavanshi is a bogus person. He should not have given in to the government pressure. We are determined to continue the strike until our demands are met."

First published: 3 June 2017, 20:05 IST