Mumbai (The Hindu): Maharashtra’s farmers are set to go on a first-ever strike, as their demands for loan waivers and a better price for their produce go unmet. The strike calls for a complete ban on the sale of milk, vegetables, and grains to the markets.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s meeting with representatives of striking farmers late on Tuesday night was futile. Mr Fadnavis met farmers from Puntamba in Ahmednagar — the first to announce their decision to strike — in an effort to convince them to call off the agitation. After a two-and-a-half-hour meeting, the farmers remained firm on their stand, saying the instead of accepting even one of their demands, the government had only chosen to recount the measures it has taken to improve their condition.
Apart from a farm loan waiver, the farmers want farm loans based on Ready Reckoner values of farm land, and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations which ensures better returns to farmers on their produce and an import ban on certain goods. Mr. Fadnavis has claimed his government will provide loan waivers, but has refused to announce a date.
The strike is likely to meet support from Ahmednagar, Nashik, Beed, Aurangabad, and Vidarbha.
Raju Shetty, Lok Sabha MP of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS), an ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), announced a stoppage of supply of milk and vegetables from western Maharashtra to Mumbai. Kalidas Aapet, Executive President, SSS, warned that those who try to break the farmers’ unity by supplying farm produce to market will be face serious consequences. “We have asked farmers to not sell anything in market from June 1 to 7,” Mr Aapet said. “We want to know the government’s response during this period. We do not want strike at all, but sometimes it is necessary to raise your voice.” He said that farmers participating in this strike will hold demonstrations, rallies, even fasts. “It is possible that at some places protesters will be forced to use strength to make strike a success. It is bound to happen and we cannot stop this. We want to make it 100% success.”
On Tuesday, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and former Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said, that like the UPA government in 2009, Narendra Modi should also announce a farm loan waiver package which will not only provide relief but also create capabilities to seek new loans.
Effect not immediate
The Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) in Vashi is unsure of the strike impacting customers by Wednesday.
Shivaji Pahinkar, secretary, Vashi APMC, said, “The picture will be clear tomorrow morning, as whether the strike really cut off the supply or not.” He said that in any case, most of the grain that comes to the APMC is from northern states, where no farmers were on strike. “Hence, I do not think it will affect the grain supply, unless organisations decide to forcefully stop vehicles. But even then, it is highly unlikely that people will face shortage of grains any time soon.”
Mr. Pahinkar said that the Vashi APMC had asked for security cover on Thursday to avoid untoward incidents. “If a farmer voluntarily decides to not send his produce to market, then we can call it a strike,: he said. “But stopping him from sending his produce would amount to hooliganism.”Hoteliers in the city fear that the entire supply chain may get affected if the strike succeeds. “Vegetables are the highly perishable items and especially in the current weather, it is impossible to store large amounts,” said Adarsh Shetty, President, Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association.
“We hoteliers mostly buy vegetables daily as per our requirement, and if this strike really happens, it will impact us and indirectly to our customers.” He recalled that the industry had suffered last year, when a strike hit the APMCs: “We had to remove some vegetable dishes from our menu. If farmers go ahead with tomorrow’s strike aggressively, a similar situation may arise.” He hoped the strike would be called off .
Mumbai’s milk supply — approximately 50 lakh litres a day — comes mostly from outside the city, mainly from western and northern Maharashtra and Gujarat. Arun Patil, Chairman of the Indian Dairy Association, expects that the strike will impact supply. “Consumers could face trouble if the strike continues for more days.”
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