Ryots seek higher advance; 2 State buses torched

Two protesting farmers lost their lives, at least eight State transport buses were attacked, two were torches and hundreds of passengers were stranded as bus services were shut down in parts of western Maharashtra, as the protest for a higher advance by sugarcane farmers took a violent turn on Monday.

Farmers’ organisation Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna leader and MP Raju Shetty who is leading the protest, was arrested earlier in the day which led to increased agitation by the farmers in various parts of the State.

In Sangli district, a farmer Chandrakant Nalawade was injured when the police fired shots in the air to quell an angry mob. He later succumbed to the gunshot wounds, police sources said. In Kolhapur, Pundalik Kokate, a farmer, was killed when a truck ran over him when he tried to deflate its tyres. Protesting farmers also pelted stones at police. State transport services remained shut in Solapur till late on Monday night.

The farmer’ organisations are demanding a higher first advance than the fair and remunerative Price (FRP) as announced by the government. The Shetkari Sanghatna and the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna (SSS) are demanding a total of Rs. 4,500 per tonne of sugarcane — including Rs. 3,000 as cost of production in the first instalment — which the owners of the co-operative sugarcane factories have not agreed to.

The FRP per tonne, as announced by the government, is Rs 1,750 for 9.5 per cent recovery and Rs. 179 for every additional 1 per cent recovery, working out to an average of Rs. 2,150 per tonne.

Speaking to reporters in Shrirampur, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan stated that the government would not interfere between the farmers and the factories. “The factories cannot give less than the FRP. If we come across such cases, action can be taken against them. Sugarcane factory owners should come together and decide,” he said.

Since the last two years, the farmers’ protests have turned increasingly aggressive. Last year, after a 12-day protest, the government stepped in, ensuring that the farmers got a first advance of Rs. 1800 per tonne, as compared to the FRP last year, which was Rs 1400. However, this year the organisations have complained that their dues from last year have not been cleared by the factories. According to Maharashtra Sugar Commissioner Vijay Kumar Singhal, 28 of the 170 factories that were involved in crushing last season had not yet cleared farmers’ dues, and the Commissionerate has withheld crushing licences to the factories.

On Monday, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Cooperatives Minister Harshwardhan Patil were present in Western Maharashtra, but refused to enter into a dialogue with the protesting farmers. Opposition party in the State Shiv Sena condemned the violence, but has extended support to the farmers. “Shiv Sena has declared a day-long bandh on November 14 in the districts of Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur,” Shiv Sena leader Diwakar Rawte stated.