Mumbai: The farmers, who had camped at the KJ Somaiya Ground in Sion, said they plan to move towards the Azad Maidan, about 15 km away, around midnight. From there, they will proceed to the state assembly, another 2 km away, on Monday.
Ashok Dhawle, president of the AIKS, said 50,000 people have joined the protests and the number will grow on Monday. Assuring that the protests will not disturb the city, he said, “We will begin our rally after 11 am so that students appearing for their Class 10 board exam don’t face any difficulties”.
On Monday, they plan to surround the state assembly to press for their demands of a complete loan waiver, fair pay and transfer of adivasi land to farmers who have been tilling it for years. The tribals have joined the protest in huge numbers. The huge crowd that has camped at the KJ Somaiya Ground, will start to move towards Azad Maidan, a large ground designated for protests in South Mumbai, around midnight.
This evening, as the procession teemed into Mumbai, Girish Mahajan, senior minister in the cabinet of Devendra Fadnavis, welcomed the march at Mulund in suburban Mumbai. “We are sad that farmers have come all the way to protest,” he said, adding that the government, which has met some earlier demands, will consider the fresh wish-list.
The opposition Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and Shiv Sena, which is part of the ruling alliance, have extended support to the farmers’ demands. Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackeray met the farmers today. But the farmers are not happy. They want the Sena to speak as representatives of the government and not as a political party.
In November last year, the Devendra Fadnavis government had announced loan waiver for farmers after the state witnessed a 10-day long protest by farmers. Without mentioning figures or who would be eligible, he had promised that it would be the “biggest loan waiver in Maharashtra’s history”. Last month, state Governor Vidyasagar Rao told the state assembly that said the government has transferred more than Rs. 12,000 crore into bank accounts of more than 3.1 million farmers.
But the farmers also want the implementation of the Swaminathan Committee report, which says farmers should be paid one-and-a-half times the cost of production and the Minimum Support Price should be fixed keeping this in mind.
Today’s protests have not affected traffic in Mumbai, which last year was witness to the huge, silent protests by Maratha groups. Refusing to comment on whether they would be allowed to march to the assembly building tomorrow, joint police commissioner Deven Bharti said, “Top ministers are speaking to them”.