Thousands of farmers from Maharashtra’s Nashik, known for its onion crop and vineyards, walked more than 180 kilometres southwest to Mumbai to press for their demands ranging from a complete waiver of farm loans to a higher support price.
India’s largest state economy has been battling a rural distress that’s expected to hurt growth in the ongoing financial year, according to its Economic Survey. Farm output is likely to contract after uneven monsoon rains and damage caused by a hailstorm last month.
On March 6, farmers from Nashik and adjoining areas assembled on CPI(M)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha’s call for a “long march” and set out on foot to Mumbai. Led by Ashok Dhawale and Ajit Navale, president and general secretary of the the organisation, about 15,000-20,000 farmers started from Nashik. More joined on the way to Mumbai over the next seven days, Dhawale told BloombergQuint. “The number has increased to more than 60,000.”
According a statement on the kisan sabha’s website, here’s what the farmers have been demanding and why:
- Complete waiver of farm loans.
- Implementation of the Swaminathan Committee suggestions, especially a minimum support price of one-and-a-half times the cost of production. (Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, in the budget for 2018-19, proposed to implement the proposal. Yet, there is uncertainty on what will constitute the cost to arrive at the support price.)
- Rights over forest land the farmers in tribal areas till.
- Faster transfer of funds under the Rs 30,000-crore farm loan waiver announced last year.
- Compensation for losses due to the hailstorm and pest attack.
- A complete change in the river-linking scheme that threatens to submerge tribal villages in Nashik, Thane and Palghar districts.
- Make water available to these and other drought-prone districts in the state.
- Stop acquisition of farmland for projects like the bullet train and super highways.
- Increase in pension to poor peasants and agricultural workers.
Why Another Farm Loan Waiver?
Maharashtra last year announced a loan waiver of up to Rs 1.5 lakh each for farmers across the state. Nearly 60 lakh farmers have applied for it. Yet, the disbursals were delayed after the state decided to reverify beneficiaries when multiple applications were found to have quoted the same Aadhaar ID.
State Battling Rural Distress
Maharashtra’s gross state domestic product for 2017-18 is expected to grow at 7.3 percent, its slowest pace in three years, weighed down by a decline in farm output. That’s because its agricultural output is expected to contract 8.3 percent after uneven distribution of monsoon. Unseasonal rains and a hailstorm left the onion crop damaged in Nashik and adjoining areas. A pink bollworm attack hurt cotton farmers in the state, the largest producer after Gujarat.
The overall crop production is expected to decline 14.4 percent in terms of the gross state value added of crops, according to the Economic Survey. Here’s the estimated decline in kharif crop output :
- Pulses: Down 46 percent
- Cotton: Down 44 percent
- Oilseeds: Down 15 percent
- Cereals: Down 4 percent
- Only sugarcane production is expected to grow 25 percent.