Farmers call off ‘Long March’, after state government accepts demands

In a major victory for the farmers, the state government gave written assurance accepting all the fifteen demands put forward, including one to increase land parcels in forest zones

February 23, 2019 by Newsclick

Thousands of farmers who started the Kisan Long March from Nashik to Mumbai with their 15-point charter of demands have now called off their protest after the state government of Maharashtra, in western India, gave a written assurance, to the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), that they have accepted all their demands. The government’s decision came after Nashik’s nodal minister Girish Mahajan and Maharashtra’s tourism minister Jaykumar Rawal held a six hour-long deliberations with AIKS leaders Ashok Dhawale, Ajit Navale and CPI-M (Communist Party of India – Marxist) legislator Jiva Gavit, the ones at the forefront of the movement, in Nashik on Thursday, February 21.

The most important demand of this march was of irrigation projects in northern and central hinterlands of the state, that are routinely hit by droughts. The water in the western flowing rivers drain directly into the Arabian Sea. The AIKS has demanded that the government build irrigation projects to divert that water to the drought-hit areas of Maharashtra. The state government has assured that the projects will come up under Maharashtra Ekatmik Jal Arakhada, a uniform irrigation plan by the state government.

Another important demand was to grant land titles on forest land. The AIKS has asked to give a minimum of one-acre land to farmers who have been farming on forest lands for decades. It should be noted that in the earlier discussions on this issue, just 4 to 6 guntha (40 guntha = 1 acre) land parcels were cleared by the government. Now, the ministers have given in writing that a minimum of an acre will be granted to every farmer. This will give relief to farmers in much of Maharashtra.

On the demand of loan waiver, the government reiterated that the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojana, a loan waiver scheme announced by state government on June 30, 2017, will not be halted until every farmer gets its benefit. The government also said that the farmers who had taken loan in the financial year 2016-17 will be included in the scheme as well.

The different cash transfer schemes like Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Yojana, Indira Gandhi Vruddhapkal Yojana, a scheme for senior citizens above 65 years, and others will see an increase in amount now. This was also one of the major demands made by AIKS. There was a limit of income till INR 21,000 (approximately USD 295) for these schemes. The government has now assured to consider the proposal to increase the annual income limit to INR 50,000 (over USD 700).

Another important land title clearance issue was that of temple lands being cultivated by farmers. On that, the government has informed the AIKS that the report prepared by a revenue ministry group to study the same will soon be out. The state government will come up with a bill for this in the monsoon session of the state legislative assembly.

AIKS had also raised the issue of forceful acquisition of lands for projects like much-touted ‘Bullet Train’ and Samriddhi Mahamarg, a six lane expressway connecting India’s financial capital Mumbai to Nagpur. To this, the state government has assured that no land will be snatched for these projects.

This Kisan Long March was the second one called by the AIKS with the same demands. Earlier in 2018, farmers had walked over seven days from Nashik to Mumbai, covering a distance of 180 kms. The state government had been trying to persuade the AIKS leaders at the outset to withdraw the march.

As last year’s march had brought the plight of farmers before the nation and generated sympathy from all corners, this year, state government, led by the the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), resorted to a number of measures to prevent the farmers from marching. Thousands of farmers were reportedly stopped by creating number of obstacles in several major intersection on February 19 and 20, yet, the farmers managed to reach Nashik and begin the march.

As a result, the government machinery was forced to rush to clear the demands on February 20. Sources confirmed that state minister Girish Mahajan spoke to the state chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on phone in the night of February 20. He also held deliberations with AIKS leaders over almost six hours on February 21, finally leading to the written assurance that all their demands will be accepted.