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Maharashtra farmers’ strike: Leaders to meet government panel on Sunday

Mumbai city news: The farmers’ leaders, who had a meeting to decide their demands, said Sunday’s discussions will be preliminary

mumbai Updated: Jun 11, 2017 00:23 IST
Manasi Phadke
Raju Shetti, a leader from Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, said the next course of action will be decided after the meeting.
Raju Shetti, a leader from Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, said the next course of action will be decided after the meeting.(HT)

After more than a week of protests for a loan waiver and minimum support price for their produce, farmers’ representatives will have a second round of discussions with the Maharashtra government on Sunday, this time with a ministerial committee formed recently to end the stalemate.

The leaders, who had a meeting to decide their demands, said Sunday’s discussions will be preliminary and the agitation will go on as planned.

The leaders had a meeting on Thursday in which they decided to give the government two days to take a decision on their demands, pending which farmers will resort to street protests and rail traffic disruptions from June 12.

Raju Shetti, a leader from Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, said, “Our leaders will attend the meeting tomorrow, hear out what the government is saying, and we will have an internal discussion again to decide the next course of action. Meanwhile the agitation will go on.”

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis first held a meeting with representatives of farmers’ leaders last week, after which he promised a Rs30,000-crore farm loan waiver for small and marginal farmers. A section of farmers’ outfits, however, was not happy with the decision, and criticised the chief minister for trying to break the unity of farmers and arrest the protests by calling and influencing a selective group of farmers’ leaders.

In Sunday’s meeting too, ministers plan to press for a loan waiver only for needy farmers. “Last time’s loan waiver was completely misused. A number of banks are still reeling under the strain. We will discuss this and find ways to avoid those mistakes. Needy farmers should definitely get a loan waiver, but we are not sure of the modalities. We will know only after the discussions,” said Subhash Deshmukh, minister for cooperation.

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The other ministers in the high-powered committee are revenue minister Chandrakant Patil, agriculture minister Pandurang Fundkar, finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, water resources minister Girish Mahajan and transport minister Diwakar Raote.

In their group meeting on Saturday, those leading the protests decided to stick to the original demand of a complete loan waiver for all 1.34 crore farmers in Maharashtra, along with a minimum support price and other recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee. A few leaders warned if the government does not pay heed to their demands, Maharashtra may see a Madhya Pradesh-like violent agitation.

A day before formal discussions with the government, those leading the protests had a number of disagreements. At least four active leaders who participated in the earlier meeting at Nashik did not turn up for the meeting in Mumbai and some were vocal about their resentment to the way decisions were being taken.

Budhajirao Mulik, an agriculture expert, said the state took decisions holding the farmers at gunpoint and farmers’ leaders entering discussions hastily.

“I am also not in agreement with the rail roko planned on June 13. The entire agitation is getting political,” he said.

There was also a disagreement on the number of people who should go to Sahyadri, the state’s official guesthouse, for a meeting with the ministerial committee on Sunday.

While Shetti and the Peasants and Workers Party’s Jayant Patil said the panel will name 15 representatives to hold talks with the government, Raghunath Patil, a senior leader on the panel, publicly rebuffed them saying the entire panel of 35 members should go.

“The government probably wants us to send a smaller group, but this is an agitation concerning the masses. Everyone should have a voice and hence all 35 leaders should go,” Patil said.

Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena, which has been taking to the roads to protest for the farmers’ demands despite being in the government, too reiterated the party’s demand for a complete loan waiver and not a selective reprieve for small farmers.

Speaking at a party meeting in Nashik, Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said, “Expect an earthquake in the state in July. Our ally is strategising to finish us and this is a question of the Sena’s existence. The Shiv Sena will begin its political fight in July. We don’t want a partial reprieve for farmers, but a complete loan waiver.”