Under pressure from the opposition and ally Shiv Sena, the BJP-led Maharashtra government today accepted the demands of agitating farmers, including their right to till forest land, as thousands of agriculturists converged here in a sea of red.
In a major victory for the farmers who trekked 180 km from Nashik to here over six days under the blazing sun, some even barefooted, the state’s Revenue Minister Chandrakant patil said their “all demands” are being accepted.
He was addressing farmers camping at Azad Maidan in south Mumbai in the presence of CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury.
Talking to reporters outside Vidhan Bhawan, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “We have agreed to set up a committee to hand over forest land used for farming, to tribals and farmers.”
“A meeting was held with representatives of farmers and adivasis at Vidhan Bhawan today. We have agreed to set up a committee to allot agricultural land to tribals provided they submit a proof of pre-2005 land cultivation. We have accepted almost all their demands,” Fadnavis said.
Earlier in the day, Fadnavis, who was under intense pressure to concede the demands of farmers, had said his government was “sensitive and positive” towards their issues.
“Around 90 to 95 per cent of the participants are poor tribals. They are fighting for forest land rights. They are landless and can’t do farming. The government is sensitive and positive towards their demands,” he told the state Assembly during a discussion on the ‘Long March’ of agriculturists.
Several parts of Maharashtra frequently face drought, and suicides due to rural indebtedness is common.
“A ministerial committee has been formed to discuss the demands with protesters. We will take a decision to resolve their issues in a time-bound manner,” he said.
The Azad Maidan turned into a sea of red today as farmers carrying red flags descended there.
The CPI(M)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha led the protest, where farmers demanded an unconditional loan waiver, and transfer of forest land to tribal farmers who have been tilling it for years.
The farmers were also agitating against non-implementation of the Swaminathan Committee recommendation for fixing the minimum support price at one-and-a-half times the cost of production, and the Forest Rights Act, CPI-M leader Ashok Dhawle said.
The farmers were also demanding a change in the plan to link rivers in Nashik, Thane and Palghar districts so as to ensure that tribal lands are not submerged and water from the scheme is made available to these areas and other drought-prone districts.
They were also protesting against the state government’s land acquisition for projects, including high-speed railway and super highways.
The opposition Congress, NCP, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and also Shiv Sena, which is part of the BJP-led ruling coalitions in the state and at the Centre, had extended support to the farmers.
MNS chief Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray met the farmers yesterday.
The Shiv Sena, BJP’s ruling alliance partner, threw its weight behind the farmers, saying that irrespective of their red flags the party would back them in getting their problems resolved.
In November last year, the state government announced a farm loan waiver, terming it the “biggest in Maharashtra’s history”.
The Mumbai police had heightened security following apprehension of breach of peace during the agitation.
As the farmers braved the sultry weather, the city’s famed ‘dabbawalas’ known for delivering tiffins to lakhs of Mumbaikars with clockwork precision, offered them food and water.
Subhash Talekar, the spokesperson of Mumbai Dabbawala Association, said, “We thought about helping the farmers with food as they are our food-providers and have come from remote parts of the state.”
A jubilant Yechury described farmers as the “new soldiers of India” who can “uproot governments” if they do not accept their demands.
As a resolution appeared in sight following their gruelling six-day journey, the farmers prepared to return home.
The authorities announced that they would be ferried back to Nashik. The Central Railway has decided to run a special train from Mumbai to Bhusawal, an official said.