Thousands of kisans and their supporters began their 200 km long march on 13th March from Nashik in Maharashtra. They are determined to demonstrate in front of the state assembly sometime on 20th or 21st March. This march is reviving memories of a similar march 5 years ago in 2018. At that time also tens of thousands of men and women kisans, agricultural workers and their supporters had marched all the way to Mumbai city braving the sweltering heat. Just like that time, now also the marching kisans are being helped with food and water by people from towns and villages along the route of the long march. Thousands of other kisans from across Maharashtra are expected to join the march at various places along the route.
The kisans are marching under the banner of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). They have put forward a 17-point charter of demands. The most prominent demand is that of remunerative prices, particularly for onions, cotton, soya bean, arhar dal, moong dal, milk and hirda. The prices obtained by kisans for their produce is a major distress point for them across the country and remunerative prices remains one of the main demands of the kisans. This was one of the demands of the more than 500 kisan organizations during the year-long andolan at the Delhi borders of 2020-21.
In Lasalgaon which is major onion growing area of Maharashtra, onion prices in the market dropped within 3 weeks from Rs.1,151/- per quintal in end-February to Rs.550/- per quintal. This has resulted in such acute distress to the kisans in the state that they are throwing the onions on roads. They do not see any use in bringing their produce to the market. Hence one major demand of kisans is a guaranteed price of Rs.2000/- per quintal and an immediate subsidy of Rs.600/- per quintal.
Other significant demands include a complete loan waiver to the peasantry, the waiving of pending electricity bills and assured 12-hour daily supply of power, compensation by the government and insurance companies for the damage sustained by peasants due to unseasonal rains and other natural calamities, and an increase in the PM Housing Scheme subsidy from Rs. 1.40 lakh to Rs. 5 lakh. It should be noted that some of these demands are also being raised by crores of peasants across various states of India; again, the demand relating to electricity supply and cost of power was one of the main demands of the year-long kisan andolan.
In 2018 when Maharashtra peasants marched in thousands to Mumbai city, the current Deputy Chief Minister, was the Chief Minister of the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition government. At that time, he had promised that the state government would do the needful and ensure vesting of all forest land, pasture, temple, inam, waqf and benami land in the name of cultivators by including their names in the land records. Since then nothing has been done by the Maharashtra government and hence this remains another major demand of the agitating peasants.
Despite widely publicized loan waiver schemes to fool the kisan families, the fact is that as of December 2022, more than Rs. 22000 crore outstanding loans were yet to be waived!
Kisans in Maharashtra are in a critical economic situation, resulting in increasing suicides. As per the government records, 2,743 kisans committed suicide in the year 2021 (January-December); this number went up to 2,942 in 2022! According to kisans, the actual number is much higher. When peasants started their march from Nashik, the Maharashtra Agriculture Minister shamelessly declared that “the farmers’ suicides are not new to Maharashtra”!
When the current Deputy Chief Minister was leader of opposition during the previous government in Maharashtra, he had reportedly demanded that electricity supply to kisans should never be disconnected even if they are unable to clear the electricity dues. Whereas now that he has become the deputy Chief minister, more and more kisans are reportedly facing power cuts. Not only this, but the current state government is actively following directives of the Central government and planning a steep increase in the power tariff. All this will only add to the kisans’ woes and hence their demand regarding power supply.
On 13th March a Minister from the State cabinet met the leaders of the rally and promised them that both Chief Minister and deputy Chief minister would meet them in Mumbai the next afternoon. However, on 14th morning the state government declared that the meeting will not happen that day! This has further angered the kisans and they vowed to continue their march with renewed determination.
The demands of kisans of Maharashtra is entirely just. They enjoy the support of the working class and people of the country.