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50,000+ farmers camp at Mumbai's Azad Maidan, to lay siege to Maharashtra Secretariat today

Monday March 12, 2018 11:18 AM, & Agencies

Maharashtra farmers protest
[As of now a sea of humanity numbering over 50,000 can be seen at Azad Maidan near Mumbai CST, a walking distance away from Maharashtra Secretariat. (Image tweeted by Parth MN @parthpunter)]

Mumbai: Thousands of farmers on Paidal March from Nashik to Mumbai are camping at Azad Maidan and are set to lay siege to Mantralaya - the Maharashtra secretariat, to press their demands which also included complete loan waiver.

According to the organisers who are led by Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sabha (ABKS) the number of protesting farmers was 20,000 when they started their Paidal March from Nashik last Tuesday. By the time they reached Mumbai Sunday evening, more farmers and tribals joined the march and as of now a sea of humanity numbering over 50,000 can be seen at Azad Maidan near Mumbai CST, a walking distance away from Maharashtra Secretariat.

Earlier, paying heed to the request made by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis the protesting farmers marched overnight from Vikhroli to Azad Maidan and also agreed to delay their march till 11:00 am Monday. Fadnavis had requested the farmers not to harm the students who are appearing for the SSC exam.

"We will begin our rally after 11 am today so that students appearing for their Class 10 board exam don't face any difficulties," CPI (M) leader Ashok Dhawle was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

Fadnavis had also invited the farmers for a meeting. "We will talk to them and sort out their issues. The government is positive on their demands. Most of the agitators are tribals, and their main demand is forest land rights," Fadnavis told news agency PTI.

A meeting between a group of ministers and a delegation of farmers is expected to take place around 2pm at Vidhan Bhavan. It has been postponed slightly for the condolence motion following the demise of Congress leader Patangrao Kadam and for filing of nominations for Rajya Sabha.

All opposition parties including Congress, NCP, Left, MNS and also BJP ally Shiv Sena have extended their support to protesting farmers. "This government will not do anything for you", Raj Thackeray, MNS Chief said.

The 180-km march of the farmers, who are also accompanied by a large number of women and children, has come at a time when a billionaire like Nirav Modi had fled the country by looting banks of around Rs 12,600 crore in the form of unpaid loans. The farmers and their supporters say that when the country's agricultural sector is facing a massive crisis due to drought, suicides of farmers, rising debt of farmers and failure to get minimum support price (MSP), among others, the farmers deserve full waiver of loans.

"Why not? When the government can waive off the loans of businessmen and corporate, why not ours? It is the farmers who voted for you in large numbers, not the industrialists", the agitating farmers had recently told BJP President Amit Shah.

The protesting farmers say that they are miffed with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) "anti-farmer policies". Around 1,753 debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide in the western state since June last year, claims the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).

"The government is pro-rich and anti-poor. How can the government let billionaires like Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya (another fugitive) have gala time at foreign shores and farmers suffer because of increasing debts?" asked a protesting farmer.

The Maharashtra government had in 2017 announced partial loan waiver but the protesting farmers said even this was not properly implemented. Along with proper implementation of the loan waiver package announced by the Chief Minister, the farmers in Maharashtra, who are struggling to cope with the agrarian crisis and natural calamities, are also demanding the implementation of recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission.

“The state government declared a loan waiver package, but 1,753 farmers have committed suicide since then because of its poor implementation. More than 25,000 farmers are now on the highway in intense heat demanding their rights,” said Ajit Nawale, State General Secretary, ABKS.

“In 2015, we had protested for the farmers to get their [rights to the] forest land, better rates for crops, a loan waiver and so on. The government is merely pretending to fulfil its promises. This time it is now or never", he added.

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