MUMBAI: Clad in soiled white shirt, dhoti and a tulsi mala around his neck, Chandar Shivram Pendhar, 65, stands out from the crowd. While his fellow farmers sport red caps to beat the scorching sun, Pendhar has a white Gandhi topi.
“This government has done nothing for us. We will storm Vidhan Bhavan where all the ministers of the government sit and make them realise our agony,” Pendhar said as the 25,000 other farmers, holding red flags with the sickle and hammer symbol, march to India’s commercial capital.
The farmers started from Nashik on March 8 and are now in touching distance of Mumbai. They plan to gherao the State Secretariat on March 12 to demand an equitable farm loan waiver and to protest against what they called “anti-farmer” policies of the BJP-led government of Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Leading the agitation are Jiva Pandu Gavit, a six-time MLA from Surgana constituency in Nashik district, and CPI (M) leader Prof Ajit Navale of the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha. Navale was a member of the committee that had led the farmers’ agitation last year. The agitation had forced the state government to announce a crop loan waiver.
But the announcement has not satisfied the farmers, resulting in the ‘Long March’ from Nashik. “There are several problems with the crop loan waiver scheme announced by the government on both the conceptual as well as implementation level,” Navale said.
“The CM had said the scheme shall benefit 89 lakh farmers but when it came to its implementation only 55,000 odd farmers have benefited. The loan waiver is not ‘blanket’ as we had demanded but is selective and has left out most of the farmers. While CM said the scheme size was `34,000 crore only about `13,000 crore have been spent as yet. This is cheating and that is why we are protesting,” he explained.
Gavit warned the government to treat the farmers with dignity or face the consequences. “If the government prevents us from going to Vidhan Bhavan we shall bring Mumbai to a halt. We farmers can go to any extent to achieve our goals,” he said. The march has got support from all political parties.
While on his way to Nashik on Saturday, Sharad Pawar met the farmers while Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray sent MSRDC Minister Eknath Shinde to meet Navale and Gavit to assure them of support. Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the Aam Aadmi Party, too, have vouched their support.
Farmers from Thane and Palghar districts are expected to join the march soon.
The gathering political support means little to Pendhar and others who are genuinely distressed. His village is plagued by water crisis also. Hailing from Cholmukh, a small hamlet in Nashik district, he said: “Ours is a small village in a hilly area. We don’t have facilities for water.”
“We have heard that the government has brought in a scheme called Jal Yukta Shivar. But, it hasn’t reached our village. The water we receive during the monsoon finishes in a few months and we have to walk miles to quench our thirst during the summer,” he said, grumbling about the water conservation scheme not being implemented in his village yet.