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Tuesday, Oct 15, 2019

‘Temporary truce’: Maharashtra tribals, farmers withdraw stir on government’s written assurances

The agreement was reached after a two-hour meeting with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, following which the state chief secretary DK Jain handed over the minutes of meeting to the farmers’ representatives.

india Updated: Nov 22, 2018 21:58 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Mumbai, India – Nov 22, 2018: Farmers march towards Azad maidan from Lalbaug area in Mumbai, demanding better compensation for drought and transfer of forest rights to tribals, on Thursday, Nov 22, 2018. (Photo by Bhushan Koyande/HT)
Mumbai, India – Nov 22, 2018: Farmers march towards Azad maidan from Lalbaug area in Mumbai, demanding better compensation for drought and transfer of forest rights to tribals, on Thursday, Nov 22, 2018. (Photo by Bhushan Koyande/HT)(HT Photo)
         

Two days after they began their protest march to Mumbai, farmers and tribals from western Maharashtra withdrew their agitation on Thursday evening following a written assurance from the state government that their demands would be met within three months. Over 10,000 tribals and tribal-farmers had marched 35 km from Thane to Mumbai’s Azad Maidan demanding, among other things, transfer of land rights to 2.31 lakh eligible tribals and relief to drought-affected farmers.

The agreement was reached after a two-hour meeting with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, following which the state chief secretary DK Jain handed over the minutes of meeting to the farmers’ representatives.

According to the minutes, the state government has said it will settle the eligible claims of forest land rights in the next three months and hold a review meeting after that to assess its progress.

Pratibha Shinde, general secretary, Lok Sangharsh Morcha – an outfit that works for the rights of tribals and farmers in Maharashtra and Gujarat – called it “a temporary truce.” She said, “The state government has assured us in writing that it will expedite the process of transfer of land ownership, and we will review it after three months. If the government fails to keep its promises, we will be back on the streets.”

There are 2.31 lakh eligible claims on transfer of land rights awaiting government approval. These plots of land belonged to tribals for generations prior, but according to the Indian Forests Act of 1927, governments had control over movement and transit of forest produce. In 2006, the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act came into force, which allowed state governments to transfer forest agricultural land back to the tribals. “Only 1.1 lakh claims have been settled in the last few years, according to the provisions in the law,” Shinde said.

State water resources and irrigation minister Girish Mahajan addressed the agitating farmers and said that all their demands have been agreed upon. “There were some technical difficulties in giving land ownership, but today even those have been tackled. We will ensure that you don’t need to agitate again,” Mahajan told the farmers.

Fadnavis also announced a waiver of temporary loans given to the tribals and farmers for the unproductive period of farming. Farmers have not been able to repay these loans due to a drought and other agrarian crises.

“We are facing an unprecedented drought,” Jalgaon farmer Ravindra Pawar, 30, said. “This declaration has come at the right time.” Hanuman Somaria, a Gadchiroli farmer, said, “We will finally have our name to our land. This will ensure that we get compensation during a drought.”

This is the second such agitation this year in Maharashtra. In March, over 40,000 farmers and tribals – led by the Left-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha – had marched from Nashik to Mumbai, a distance of over 200 km. Then, too, the state government had assured them of compensation. However, despite a written assurance, not much progress was made, according to the agitating farmers.

Apart from the transfer of land rights and drought relief, the farmers are demanding the “proper implementation of the loan waiver package” announced by Fadnavis last year and “the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Commission for 50% more than the cost of their crops.”

Earlier in the day, protesters gathered at Azad Maidan, a ground known for protest meetings and political rallies as well as its cricket pitches, shouting slogans like “Maharashtra government, wake up” as they held a rally.

Jilabai from Nandurbar district, who is more than 100 years old, was among the protesters who walked from Thane to Azad Maidan. She was called on the stage at Azad Maidan where she sang a song criticising the government and shouted slogans.

Sardar Ramsingh from Jalgaon said he sold his goat for Rs 1,400 to participate in the march to Mumbai. Ramsingh said he had five acres of land but it was acquired by the forest department, and now has to work as a farm labourer on somebody else’s land to earn Rs 150 per day. “I had no money to come here. So, I sold my goat and arranged some money,” he said.

They had gathered at the Anand Nagar octroi naka in Mulund since Wednesday night. After marching for close to 19 km on Day One, they halted for the night at Chhtrapati Shivaji Ground in Sion. The state government offered them buses from Sion, but they refused, saying they preferred to walk.

First Published: Nov 22, 2018 21:42 IST

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