Pune, Maharashtra: The first-ever indefinite farmers’ strike in the history of Maharashtra, perhaps even in the country, began on June 1. The farmers are on strike in demand for a loan waiver and better procurement mechanisms for their produce. The first day of the strike also saw incidents of violence, with farmers’ groups vandalising trucks carrying vegetables and milk of those who did not wish to participate in the strike.
Members of the Kisan Kranti Morcha, an umbrella of farmers’ organisations, claimed that the strike was successful and had the support of more than five lakh farmers from across the state. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, though, played down the strike and said the opposition parties were behind it.
Shantaram Kunjir, state coordinator of the Kisan Kranti Morcha, said, “Over 42 non-political farmers’ organisations across the state have gone on strike to fight for our long-pending demands. All vegetable and milk farmers have supported the strike. The number of farmers who have participated in the strike is more than 5-7 lakh.”
As expected, the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) shops in major cities in the state, including Mumbai and Pune, are experiencing at 30-40% dip in supply. Fruit and vegetable prices went up by 20-30% by June 2.
Strike takes a violent turn
On June 1, the strike turned violent with agitators resorting to vandalism, burning and pelting stone at trucks carrying agricultural produce. In the Marathwada region, where the strike was successful, farmers threw open milk containers onto the road, wasting litres and litres of milk. Vegetables and fruits were also thrown on the roads.
Over 500 farmers on the Yeola-Kopargaon highway in the Nashik district pelted stones at and vandalised trucks carrying vegetables. Police had to resort to lathi charge to disperse the crowd. One farmer participating in the strike died of a heart attack in Nashik.
In Ahmednagar, farmers torched one truck ferrying sweet lemons. The police resorted to a mild lathi charge and booked 11 farmers. One farmer was injured in police action. This made the farmers even more agitated and they went on to vandalise more than 50 trucks. The police then imposed a curfew in the area. At other places in the district, farmers threw milk, onions, potatoes and many fruits on the roads in large quantities.
In Aurangabad, farmers began to get their produce to the market as usual on June 1. But Jayaji Suryawanshi, coordinator of the Kisan Kranti Morcha, and 50-60 farmers began to throw their watermelons and other vegetables on the road. Angry traders then manhandled Suryawanshi and his supporters.
At Akole, agitators torched the image of Madhav Bhandari, a BJP spokesperson who had made a statement two days ago saying that the farmers’ strike would not affect the state. In Solapur, farmers bathed the image of Subhash Deshmukh, a local MLA, with milk. A group of farmers in Nanded bathed the image of Fadnavis with milk.
Reasons for the strike
Dhananjay Jadhav, a farmer and coordinator of the Kisan Kranti Morcha from Puntambe village, said, “On April 3 this year, farmers from Puntambe, a village in Ahmednagar district, announced that they would go on strike from June 1 if the government does not waive farm loans of farmers across the state. Slowly, many organisations across the state decided to join the strike.”
He added, “Though the strike was announced two months ago, the state government did not show the willingness to pay attention to the demands of farmers. Only on the eve of strike, on May 30, did the government talk to farmers. However, none of our demands were accepted. And so the strike was carried out as previously decided.”
He added, “We have decided to not sow in this season and will not supply agricultural produce to the cities. We will cultivate as per the needs of our villages and not more than that.”
The farmers’ groups have laid out a list of 18 demands before the state government. These demands include: a complete loan waiver and electricity bill waiver; a waiver of bank and moneylender loans for families of farmers who have committed suicide; implementation of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission; an appropriate remunerative price for agricultural produce; the price of milk to be set at Rs 50 per litre; a pension for farmers after the age of 55; 100% grants for drip irrigation; and making water management a part of school curriculums.
As a result of the strike, the supply of milk, vegetables and fruits to cities was hit. Markets in Pune and Mumbai saw a sharp dip in the arrival of produce. Markets in Nashik, Latur, Aurangabad and Ahmednagar were completely closed on June 1.
Arvinda Jedhe, Pune secretary of the APMC, told The Wire, “We have experienced a 50% dip in the arrival of agricultural produce in Pune. And rates of vegetables and fruits have already gone up by 20-25%. If the strike continues there will be a major shortage in all produce and the rates will rise further.” No farmers came to the Lasalgoan onion market in Nashik.
Cities will face a shortage of milk, as major dairies getting a supply of milk. R.S. Sodhi, managing director of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation or Amul, said, “We sell 19 lakh litres of milk in the state every day, including in Mumbai. But milk collection was hit today as we could procure only ten lakh litres.” Chitale Bandhu, one of the major milk suppliers in Pune, decided not to collect milk, in solidarity with the farmers’ strike.
Meanwhile, Fadnavis, in press conference, said, “We want farmers to withdraw the strike as common citizens should not get affected. The strike will also affect farmers as their products will not be sold.” He also said that the government would be discussing the matter with farmers further, though previous discussions had failed. The chief minister also accused opposition parties of being behind the strike.
Sadabhau Khot, minister of state for agriculture and marketing, said the government was ready to talk to farmers. He too said opposition parties were behind the strike.
Meanwhile, many political parties including the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena, Swabhiman Shetakari Sanghatana and Sambhaji Brigade, offered their support to the farmers’ strike.