OPINION

The march on Mumbai 

Who led the farmers’ march from Nashik to Mumbai?

The march, in which 30,000 farmers and tribals participated, was led by the All India Kisan Sabha, a peasants’ organisation affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

The march to the Maharashtra Vidhan Sabha began from Nashik on March 6 and ended on March 12 in Mumbai. The farmers walked a distance of 170 km.

Why was the march conducted?

Despite a bountiful monsoon in 2016-17, many farmers found it hard to sell their produce after prices crashed in the aftermath of demonetisation in late 2016. A failed monsoon this year significantly affected agricultural productivity and incomes of farmers in Maharashtra, who were reeling from debt.

The government had in 2017, announced a farm loan waiver worth Rs. 30,000 crore to alleviate agrarian distress and deter farmer suicides; Maharashtra reported that 1,293 farmers (more than 40% of the total number of such suicides reported across all States) had ended their lives in 2015.

The loan waiver scheme was not quite implemented properly; besides it did not benefit many of the small and marginal farmers who usually do not rely upon institutional credit. The farmers, many of them tribals who were also yet to benefit from promises made in the previous decade to protect their livelihoods, were demanding the implementation of assurances made.

Has the State government accepted these demands?

Keeping in mind their distress conditions and the outpouring of support for the farmer-marchers, the State government accepted most of their major demands such as expanding the list of those eligible for the farm-loan waiver announced in 2017, increased pensions to agricultural workers from Rs. 500 to Rs. 1,000 per month and transfer of land titles under the Forest Rights Act.

The alacrity with which the State government responded is possibly due to the fact that a failed monsoon has led to projections of a negative growth in the farm sector (contraction by 8.3% in agriculture and allied activities) in the State’s Economic Survey this year. With Assembly elections not far away, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government is keen that rural distress does not lead to voter anger.