Many faces of Maharashtra’s agrarian crisis

Both, the farmers who undertook the march and those who went on strike, represent the wide spectrum of the state’s ongoing agrarian and rural distress.

mumbai Updated: Mar 13, 2018 01:35 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
Mumbai news,Maharashtra,agrarian crisis
Farmers stand in queue to take free medicines during farmers protest march at Azad Maidan.(Pratik Chorge/HT Photo)

Last year, on June 1, thousands of farmers in Maharashtra went on an unprecedented strike, refusing to sell their produce to markets and cutting off supply of daily necessities – milk, vegetables and fruits – to cities. The two-day strike forced the Devendra Fadnavis-led government to accept their central demand for a farm loan waiver.

A little over nine months later, on Monday, the Fadnavis government was brought to its knees yet again, this time by a ‘long march’ undertaken predominantly by tribal marginal cultivators, affiliated to the Left’s All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).

But the majority of the thousands, who walked in the blazing sun for a week, this March, despite blistered and bleeding feet, marched to secure the very basic – the right over their land. Their central demand was implementation of the Forest Rights Act, which promises handing over forest-based communities the land they have been tilling for generations. The tribals from Nashik, Thane, Palghar and Jalgaon districts also marched for better access to irrigation, to government welfare schemes – social pensions to foodgrains under public distribution system. Majority of these marginalised farmers have limited or no access to institutional credit, and loan waiver was not on the top of their agenda.

Both, the farmers who undertook the march and those who went on strike, represent the wide spectrum of the state’s ongoing agrarian and rural distress.

“Historically, the farmers’ movement in the state as championed by Sharad Joshi or even Sharad Pawar has ignored the issues of small and marginal farmers or peasants. The ‘long march’ has successfully helped to highlight their troubles and broad base the farmers’ movement,” said Milind Murugkar, Nashik-based agrarian economist. “It would be myopic to not recognise how marginal farmers also double up as landless labourers and why employment guarantee schemes are as required by tribals in Palghar as small farmers in rain-fed Vidarbha dependent on monocrop.”

Together, the farmers’ struggles across the spectrum in recent years point to a desperation to survive despite crushing odds – pest attacks, hailstorms, drought, falling market prices, unfair land acquisition and lack of access to credit and irrigation.

They also point to a failure of government intervention and policy whether it is inadequate crop insurance or relief for 41 lakh cotton farmers, whose standing crop has been destroyed by pink bollworm infestation.

The recently tabled Economic Survey statistics show why farmers are feeling short-changed and why the Fadnavis government’s “historic farm loan waiver” and its implementation has no cheerleaders on ground.

From 2012-13 to 2017-18, the state’s agriculture sector has had four years of negative growth – ranging from -0.4 per cent to -10.7 per cent – that has slashed farmers’ incomes, leaving them with little cash in hand to roll over into the next year’s cropping cycle in turn increasing indebtedness, institutional and otherwise.

The state’s waiver will clear bank dues of farming family that has taken loan of up to Rs1.5 lakh and offer a one-time settlement to those to have taken loans more than Rs1.5 lakh. But, not many who owe the bank more than Rs1.5 lakh have money to pay back the remaining amount to get any advantage of the loan waiver. Farmer leaders have said this along with various other conditions has limited the benefit of the waiver.

Those who will get a clean credit slate from the ban will get access to institutional credit for 2018 sowing, but that is no guarantee for getting an assured price for their produce.

First Published: Mar 13, 2018 01:34 IST