The two-day State bandh called by sugarcane farmers in Maharashtra started on a violent note on Thursday, especially in the western part of the State. The farmers, under the leadership of MP Raju Shetty of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS), have been agitating for a higher first advance from the government.
The protest, which started on November 15, disrupted normal life as transport services were stopped across west Maharashtra. Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara and Karad witnessed various incidents of violence. Protesting farmers also blocked traffic at various places on the Mumbai- Bangalore highway NH4 by burning tyres, the local police said.
On Thursday evening, the police in Karad, the epicentre of the agitation, booked Mr. Shetty for vandalising public property, and inciting violence. “We have arrested 40 farmers, and have also charged Mr. Shetty with destroying public property and disrupting law and order,” Inspector S.B. Jadhav said. However, given the volatility of the situation, the police did not arrest the MP, he said.
Incidents were also reported from interior regions of the State. Farmers targeted tankers carrying milk, and forcibly spilled the milk on the highway, the Karad police said. In Nanded, members of the SSS burnt effigies.
Mr. Shetty had appealed for calm on Wednesday in his address at a rally of almost 25,000 farmers in Karad.
Sadabhau Khot, a leader of the SSS, accused the Congress-NCP alliance in the State of cheating farmers. “NCP leader Jayant Patil is inciting violence, so that the blame can go to the farmers. Nobody is interested in discussing a practical solution,” he told reporters.
The farmers have demanded Rs. 3,000 per quintal of sugarcane as the first advance. The prices last year ranged from Rs. 2700 in west Maharashtra to Rs. 2300 in the Marathwada region. The SSS has however said that was ready to negotiate.
Various sugar factories across the State have decided to keep the factories shut till a decision is made. A three-member committee formed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to announce its decision over the Fair and Remunerative Price on sugarcane by Friday evening.
Addressing journalists in Mumbai, Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said: “I am also a farmer. I understand the issues faced by these people. The State ministers are working towards devising an effective solution.”