The farmers have continued to script success stories in their struggle for agrarian rights. Thursday, April 27 saw them tasting success at Sangamner in Maharashtra when the state government agreed to a host of demands.

The farmers were on a three day march under the banner of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) from Akole to Loni in Ahmednagar district of the state.

The march was the culmination of the results of natural calamities, corrupt and immoral politics along with the prevailing political instability that had pushed the basic issues of farmers, workers, agricultural labourers and working class to the margins.

The AIKS leaders said that the march had become imperative in the light of people being offered bribes or being intimidated with threats of imprisonment “ to break political parties”.

The march was to culminate at the Loni office of the Maharashtra Revenue and Dairy Development minister Vikhe Patil.

The farmers pointed out that in the last two years, excessive and unseasonal rains destroyed crops in large parts. “The state government loudly declared that compensation would be given to farmers, but it was not given. Similarly assurances were given time and again to vest forest land, temple land, inaam land, waqf land, pasture land, and land for housing to peasants and agricultural workers, many of whom are actually tilling that land for several generations. But instead of vesting land in their names, the Police and forest department were misused to beat up poor peasants and drive them out of their meagre land and houses. Lands are being forcibly acquired for highways, corridors, ports and airports, with very little compensation,” the protestors said.

They further added that during the Covid crisis, dairy peasants were forced to sell their milk for just Rs 17 per litre and presently when they were trying to stand up again, the central government had begun moves to import milk and dairy products, thus once again destroying their future. At the same time prices of cotton, soybean, tur, gram and other crops have collapsed.

They further said that on the other hand the problems of unorganized workers like Anganwadi, Asha, mid day meal scheme, construction workers, and domestic workers continue to spiral with no help coming from the state and the central governments.

They demanded an increased pension for peasants, agricultural workers and destitute people; Mediclaim and housing facilities for construction workers; increased remuneration and status of government employees for Anganwadi, Asha, mid day meal and other unorganized workers.

The lion's share of the 15,000 strong contingent of protestors came from Thane-Palghar and Ahmednagar districts while districts like Nashik, Pune, Kolhapur, Sangli, Solapur, Beed, Parbhani, Nanded, Jalna, Aurangabad, Amravati, Buldana, Wardha etc were also well represented.

The AIKS claimed that on Thursday as the protestors camped at Dhandarfal village in Sangamner tehsil, three ministers descended for talks. “Realizing that such a large peasant mass reaching Loni, the town of the revenue minister, and conducting a Mahapadav there, would discredit the state government no end, the three ministers specified by the AIKS came to hold talks,” the AIKS leaders said.

These included Vikhe Patil along with the tribal development minister Vijaykumar Gavit and labour minister Suresh Khade who held talks with the AIKS delegation led by Dr Ashok Dhawale, Dr Ajit Nawale, Umesh Deshmukh, Kisan Gujar and other state office-bearers besides Dr D L Karad of Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) and some leaders from Ahmednagar.

The talks lasted three hours, and the three ministers conceded most of the major demands of the AIKS. It was agreed that the written minutes of the talks held on April 25 and April 27 with the government would be given and all the three ministers would come to Dhandarphal village to address the marchers and publicly declare which demands they had conceded.

Accordingly, a huge and victorious public meeting was held in the evening where the leadership of the protest stressed that this victory was achieved only through sustained struggle. The march was then declared to be suspended.

“The government has agreed to implement the demands pertaining to land issues and the Forest Rights Act. It has agreed to give land rights to those tilling the lands that have been in the name of various trusts and bodies. In addition to this there has been a concrete assurance to restore the names of those that had been deleted from the records. The government has agreed to bring about a law on land rights. We have asked them to first consult us with the draft as we do not want a situation to occur where we will be compelled to launch yet another movement to remove clauses that go against the interest of the tillers and in favour of the trusts and bodies,” AIKS president Dhawale told this reporter.

He further said that the government has also agreed for compensation for the losses on account of unseasonal rains and to tighten the insurance companies.

Meanwhile, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) which is the umbrella organization of various farmers’ groups in the country along with prominent level farmer organizations of Karnataka organized a Samyukta Kisan Panchayat at Bangalore where they released a demand charter ahead of the Karnataka legislative assembly polls that are due to be held on May 10. The Panchayat was attended by over 200 farmer leaders and activists from more than 20 organizations.

They have demanded repeal of anti-farmer laws enacted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state in 2019-2020 such as the Land Reforms (Amendment) Act, Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Amendment Act and the Prevention of Cattle Slaughter Act.

The farmers want continuation of power subsidy even if the central government brings in a law on privatization of the sector. They have called for a new law to legally guarantee realization of remunerative prices by all farmers for all agricultural commodities. Another major demand listed by them is for adequate compensation for the losses being suffered due to numerous disasters through effective disaster relief and crop insurance mechanisms set up by the government.

There is a call for enactment of Farmers’ Freedom from Indebtedness Act to ensure that farmers and agricultural workers do not experience distress under the weight of debts and commit suicides due to agricultural losses. “The government should also waive off all outstanding farm loans of farmers,” the SKM has stated. .

The farmers further want scrapping of amendments brought in by the BJP government to the Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act (LARR) 2013 and want that no land be acquired against the wishes of the farmers.

An Immediate and special demand raised at the Panchayat was that the state government immediately drop the anti-farmer measures of merging Nandini with Amul or allowing Amul to compete with Nandini in Karnataka.

The participants at the Panchayat stated that Nandini is a conglomeration of more than 15 thousand milk producers’ co-operatives involving more than 60 lakh farmer families. They said the government should not venture to help a giant corporate company.

The issue around Nandini has already picked up steam in the political slugfest that is ongoing in the state.

“The ‘Charter of Demands’ was presented to the major political parties of Karnataka, JDS and Congress, whose leaders were invited to and attended the Panchayat. Though invited, the leadership of BJP did not turn up. The leaders of political parties gave solemn promises to include the farmers’ demands in their election manifestos,” the SKM said.

It further stated, “In view of the upcoming assembly elections where anti-farmer BJP is a major contestant, the Panchayat discussed the role that can and should be played by farmers organizations and after detailed discussion and deliberation, a ‘unanimous clarion call to defeat anti-farmer, anti-people communal BJP in the upcoming polls’ was given. All the organizations agreed to take this message to the grassroots level through door-to-door campaigns and other means of communication.”

It needs to be recalled that the farmers had earlier campaigned against the BJP in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Punjab assembly polls held last year. They particularly claim credit for the saffron party’s rout in Bengal.