Mumbai: Several incidents of violence marred the start on Thursday of an unprecedented, indefinite “strike” by over half a million farmers in Maharashtra in support of various demands, including the long-pending loan waiver package.
In several parts of the state, transport vehicles and some police vehicles were pelted with stones and at least one tempo suspected of carrying farm produce set ablaze.
Perceived as docile, the farmers’ belied their image with their aggression visible as they took out processions, stopped trucks or other good vehicles carrying farm produce to cities, and emptied the content of half a dozen milk tankers on to the roads.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis – without taking names – indirectly accused the opposition parties like the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party of allegedly fomenting violence among the striking farmers to pursue their political agenda.
The strike got a boost with support extended by the Congress, the NCP, and the Maharashtra Trade Unions Joint Action Committee with 35 different unions across industries which will also take out a solidarity procession in Mumbai on Saturday.
Ruling ally Shiv Sena asked the Bharatiya Janata Party to heed the farmers demands and take urgent steps, but Fadnavis retorted by saying the government was “aware of its responsibility” and expected the same from its ally.
In Osmanabad, Satara, Nashik, Latur, Ahmednagar, Pune and parts of Vidarbha, farmers vowed not to sell their produce till the government conceded their demands and dumped huge quantities of tomatoes, onions and other vegetables being taken to markets on roads and highways.
On the outskirts of Nashik and Ahmednagar, small groups of farmers set up ‘check-posts’ to verify if goods carriers were transporting fruits, vegetables, milk, etc. before permitting passage.
A group of farmers in Nanded performed bathed a picture of Fadnavis in milk to highlight their demands and in Pune, activists beat, with slippers, a poster bearing the picture of BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari for his comments against the farmers strike.
In another incident near Satara, the driver of a milk tanker was manhandled by some farmers and prevented from proceeding to his destination to transport the commodity, while stones were pelted at some vegetable and police vehicles near Nashik.
If the strike continues beyond a couple of days, major cities like Mumbai, Thane, Navi Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Nagpur and others may experience severe shortages of milk, fresh fruits, vegetables, foodgrains and other items of daily requirements, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader and MP Raju Shetti has warned.
Striking farmers, who had declared they would not indulge in any farming activity, including sowing for the upcoming kharif season, resorted to the agitation after talks with the Maharashtra government failed on Tuesday.
The organisers said the strike elicited “huge response” from farmers all over the state, except from agriculturists in the coastal Konkan, who are not part of the agitation since there is not much farming activity in the region.
Movement of agricultural goods has been restricted since midnight and effects of shortages were felt by Thursday evening in urban centres.
Most APMC markets wore a desolate look as farmers, traders, head-loaders, transporters and other officials virtually kept off.
Farmer leader Jayaji Suryawanshi, who is also a member of the state-level umbrella organisation Kisan Kranti Morcha that is spearheading the strike, was allegedly roughed up by some traders near Aurangabad here this morning when he was on a market round to drum up support for the strike.
The farmers’ demands include complete waiver of farm loans, free electricity, appropriate remunerative prices for their produce, grant for irrigation and higher price for milk and implementation of the M.S. Swaminathan Committee recommendations.
Mumbai, the country’s biggest city with a population of around 17 million, gets around 160 tonnes of vegetables from only Nashik daily, besides other parts of Maharashtra, which started declining from early on Thursday, leading to a 30-60 per cent hike in retail prices.