'Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis called us for a meeting in March 2016 and we submitted the same charter of demands that we are submitting now.'
'He gave us wishy-washy assurances.'
'We thought he was the new chief minister and we believed him, but later we found out that nothing is moving on the ground.'
'This time we want a written assurance and a concrete timetable for implementation.'
'We will not leave Mumbai, come what may.'
IMAGE: On Monday, March 12, farmers under the banner of the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha will stage a protest outside the Maharashtra legislature in Mumbai after marching from Nashik. Photograph: Kind courtesy http://kisansabha.org/
Close to 30,000 farmers are marching towards south Mumbai to stage a protest outside the Maharashtra legislature against the state government's response to the distress in the farm sector.
The farmers' 'Long March' has been organised by the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha.
Some of the farmers' demands include a complete farm loan waiver, transfer of forest land to tillers, implementation of the M S Swaminathan Commission's recommendations, compensation of Rs 40,000 per acre to farmers hit by hailstorm and pink bollworm, and putting a stop to sharing the state's water with Gujarat.
"If you want to stop farmer suicides, then loan waivers have to be given," All India Kisan Sabha President Dr Ashok Dhawale tells Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.
Why have the farmers turned up in Mumbai?
The farmers will gherao the state assembly to protest against the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state (Maharashtra) and at the Centre for breaking their word on their promises.
Now which are these promises?
The Maharashtra government had promised a loan waiver on June 11, 2017, after the historic 11-day long strike by the farmers.
Five ministers of the BJP government in Maharashtra met farmers of our organisation and agreed for a complete loan waiver and we too agreed with the government.
They said Rs 34,000 crore (Rs 340 billion) would be given as a loan waiver to farmers publicly and then put a number of conditions due to which many farmers were left out of the scheme.
And this was proved (on Friday) in the Maharashtra budget as it shows only Rs 13,780 crore (Rs 137.80 billion) as the loan waiver amount to farmers was disbursed.
So what happened to the remaining amount? The BJP government cheated the farmers on loan waiver. And this is only crop loan. We are not talking about tractor loan or irrigation loan.
(Interrupts). There is one more thing called the Forest Rights Act (external link). It was actually enacted in 2006 as lakhs of Adivasis were cultivating land in forests for generations together, but the land was not vested in their names.
They do not have ownership title to the land. Now what happened in the last 12 years? This Forest Rights Act has not been implemented well in Maharashtra.
Around 3 lakh (300,000) plus claims were made by Adivasis in Maharashtra claiming the land which they themselves were cultivating.
Out of this 3 lakh plus claims of Adivasis, 2 lakh claims were outrightly rejected by the Maharashtra government. This happened in 2010, 2011 and 2012 (under the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party government).
But now the BJP government has totally washed its hands off from implementing the Forest Rights Act. Now two-thirds of claims were already rejected and the BJP government did not do anything to correct it.
Secondly, out of the 1 lakh claims that were accepted, in most of them the land that has been given to Adivasis is only a small fraction of what they are cultivating.
For example -- if there is 1 acre land on which they were cultivating, in practice they were allowed to do that only on 1/4th of that land.
What happened to the rest of the land?
The government took it, but in places like Nashik, Palghar and Thane where our movement is strong, they could not take it.
But in some of the other districts like Yavatmal and Amravati, Adivasis have been (forcefully) evicted from lands which they were cultivating for generations.
This was happening in the rest of Maharashtra, except in places where our party has a strong presence.
So, a large number of people in our Long March morcha are tribals who are fighting for the enactment of the Forest Rights Act.
This is another betrayal by the BJP government of Adivasis as when they came to power they said they will implement it and for the last three-and-a-half years they have not implemented it.
While announcing the Union Budget for this year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley clarified that the M S Swaminathan Commission report would be implemented. In that case, why don't you give the BJP time?
During the 2014 elections, Narendra D Modi had made this an election issue and also included it in their (the BJP) manifesto.
In February 2015, the BJP government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court that though they had claimed to implement the Swaminathan Commission report, they could not, as it would distort the market; this is in the public domain now.
But it was said in the Union Budget.
(Interrupts). In the Budget, Jaitley said that in the rabi season they had implemented the C2+50 per cent formula, but when the farmers' organisations went to check the minimum support price for rabi crops it was found that not a single crop's MSP is commensurate with the formula suggested in the Swaminathan Commission report.
Rabi crops are grown in winter. Sowing takes place after Diwali and the government declares MSP and rabi crop is a winter crop. And the Budget was just announced. Don't you think you need to wait, rather than take out this morcha?
In the Budget, the government said they had already declared the C2+50 per cent Swaminathan formula when the season began. But when we went to cross-check the MSP figure, the MSP is much less and not according to the Swaminathan formula.
For example, take paddy.
A farmer must get Rs 2,500 per quintal according to the C2+50 formula, but in reality they got Rs Rs 1,600 only per quintal.
The same is the case with all other crops.
In the last 25 years, more than 4 lakh farmers have committed suicide. Maharashtra tops the list as there are 4 lakh suicides.
Last year, the BJP government spoke of loan waiver in June 2017 and even after that there have been 1,753 suicides.
IMAGE: The farmers complain that the BJP government at the state and Centre make promises, but don't implement any of them. Photograph: Kind courtesy http://kisansabha.org/
The Maharashtra government is working on big projects such as Jalyukt Shivar for farmers to store water for agriculture.
Much of it is eyewash and it is not seen on the ground.
The BJP has excelled in making big announcements without implementing projects on the ground.
The All India Kisan Sabha is working at the ground level and we know the reality.
The BJP announces a lot of schemes which creates an impression that much work is being done, but actually nothing is being done.
So if one wants to stop farmer suicides, then loan waivers have to be given. It will be a relief.
Aren't loan waivers bad economics?
It is not the ultimate solution. We too are saying that.
If you waive loans and do not change the system for farmers after every three, four years we will be back to square one. Therefore, the Swaminathan formula is the right way to solve the farmer's problems.
Won't that affect inflation? The middle class will feel the pinch of rising food prices.
There are ways to increase food subsidies. The government has been cutting down on food subsidy and importing food to make profits for private players.
Loan waiver for farmers is a no-no as it will distort the economy -- this is a right-wing argument.
How could Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya decamp with so much money? Now the RBI (Reserve Bank of India) says the total number of non-performing assets of a handful of corporates is Rs 11.5 lakh crore.
Ram Kadam, a BJP MLA from Mumbai, says those participating in this Long March aren't farmers, but CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) cadres.
This rally we planned on February 16 and the Tripura election took place on February 18 and the results were declared on March 3. This rally is not connected with the Tripura election.
If you see the farmers in our rally you will realise that they are genuine farmers who have come together under our leadership.
If these many activists were there in our rally then the CPI-M would have been in power in Maharashtra today.
The BJP is an expert in rumour-mongering and spreading lies.
The argument is that after Lenin statues were demolished following the electoral rout in Tripura, the Left is desperate to revive its cadres and therefore, this morcha is taking place.
Marxism-Leninism can never die. There is no question about it. It may face reverses for some point of time, but it will certainly rise up; it is only a question of time.
IMAGE: The farmers have been walking approximately 30 kilometres each day, while making their way to Mumbai. Photograph: Kind courtesy http://kisansabha.org/
What are you planning to do in Mumbai on Monday? If such a huge morcha comes to Mumbai, that is a cause for worry for Mumbaikars.
Should that be our worry or the government's worry?
In March 2016, one lakh farmers organised a satyagraha for two weeks in Nashik for two days and two nights.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis called us for a meeting then and we submitted the same charter of demands that we are submitting now. He gave us wishy-washy assurances.
We thought he was the new chief minister and we believed him, but later we found out that nothing is moving on the ground.
Then in Wada in Palghar district, 50,000 farmers gheraoed the BJP Adivasi development minister (in October 2016).
Post that incident, a government circular was taken out about the Forest Rights Act and child malnutrition. But no implementation has taken place.
Again in 2017, the BJP government betrayed us. The entire record of the BJP government is of betrayal.
Won't traffic in Mumbai become a mess on Monday owing to the Long March?
We are not doing anything secretly. We are organising a peaceful march. We are saying everything openly, but the government thinks we are talking big.
Till this day, the government has not bothered to contact us. The media is contacting us, but the government is not bothered about farmers.
This time we want a written assurance and a concrete timetable for implementation.
We will not leave Mumbai, come what may.
Where has Fadnavis failed? He is seen as a promising chief minister.
If he was working so well, then do you think so many farmers will come out on the streets?
They have walked 30 kilometres every day, cooking their own food, from Nashik to Mumbai.
In spite of all odds, their morale is very high.
Why is the government after Adivasi land?
They want to keep Adivasi land for themselves and keep it in their control.
In Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh they know that those lands are rich in minerals so they want to gift those lands to corporates and throw out the Adivasis.
In Maharashtra too, they want to keep Adivasi land so that they can hand these lands over to industrialists.