‘Decision on issue will be announced in winter session'

The demand for increased support prices for cotton and other agricultural produce was a serious issue and the government would be announcing its decision on giving assistance to farmers in the coming winter session of the Maharashtra legislature, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan told a press conference here on Wednesday.

The government on Wednesday held an all-party meeting on the cotton issue in the backdrop of a raging andolan of farmers in Vidarbha and north Maharashtra and reports of a spate of farmer suicides. In places, the week-long protests led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena were also marked by incidents of violence.

On Wednesday, the State highway along the Chandrapur-Yavatmal road was blocked for two hours by around 1,000 farmers.

“The andolan is on and some have also gone on a hunger strike. The government has taken the issues very seriously,” Mr. Chavan said on the sidelines of the two-hour all-party meeting. He also met representatives of farmers' organisations.

Owing to the model code of conduct now in effect ahead of the local body elections in the State, Mr. Chavan said the government was bound by the State Election Commission's directive of not making an announcement on the issue.

However, he said, the government was looking at providing assistance “per hectare” as in its previous moves, as opposed to giving help “per quintal.”

Farmers have been demanding a support price of Rs. 6,000 per quintal of cotton, Rs. 3,000 for soya beans and Rs. 2,500 per quintal of paddy.

The Chief Minister said applying the quintal criteria for these crops was “not possible” as much of the cotton had been sold. Anticipating a “per quintal” price hike, some farmers had not sold their cotton in the market.

He asked the growers to start selling and appealed for ending the protests. “The government will try its level best to help. We are in talks with the Central government and a decision will be announced.”

Mr. Chavan said there was no ban on cotton exports. The State had also considered the possibility of giving a farm bonus with the Centre.

The government has received a number of suggestions on cotton and the government will be taking a serious note to seek a solution to the crisis, Mr. Chavan said.