50,000 farmers march from across Maharashtra to protest against the farm bills
Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway blocked by protesters, who had walked hundreds of kilometres, at Charoti on Friday morning
Responding to a national-level call for a protest against the farm bills that were passed by the Rajya Sabha last week, more than 50,000 farmers from across Maharashtra poured on to the streets
to raise their voice against the bills, which they feel were detrimental to the country's farming sector. In a solid show of strength, nearly 10,000 All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) members from Dahanu and Talasari — where they have a huge supporter base – blocked the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway at Charoti on Friday morning even as it rained heavily.
Friday's national-level farmer protest saw more than 350 farmer organisations across the country come together under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), to raise their voice against the bills.
Proponents of the three bills say that it will "liberalise" the farming sector by introducing corporate players into an otherwise government-controlled APMC space, as well as improve business in the community by allowing contract farming between individual farmers and companies based on written agreements.
Farmers shout slogans and block the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway during a protest against the farm bills on Friday. Pic/Satej Shinde
Around 11:30 am on Friday, thousands of farmers hailing from Dahanu and Talsari tehsils assembled at the Charoti Naka next to the Mumbai-Ahmedabad highway. On the opposite side of the road, police officers in riot gear stood their ground while waiting for further instructions.
Cops in riot gear
"A force of around 100 cops have been deployed to ensure safety," said a senior police inspector. As talks took place between the AIKS leaders and senior officers, the protesters moved towards NH48 and by noon, both sides of the highway were blocked as the protesters sat down on the road and chanted 'Modi sarkar hosh mein aao'.
Edward Vartha, one of the protesting farmers from Dahanu, said, "The only thing that these bills will do is increase the number of farmer suicides in the country. We (farmers) are already struggling with the pre-existing laws, and now we will have to readjust everything according to the new ones."
Radka Kalangada, who lives in Dahanu along with his family, said, "Instead of waiving our loans, the government is taking a step back from the farming community and absolving itself of all the responsibility towards us."
Laxmi Waghat, who was present for the protest along with her husband Bachchu, said, "We adivasis haven't earned anything in the past seven months. We haven't been able to sell our produce. With big companies stepping, the average Indian farmer will get crushed because they are not aware of the dealings of a privatised sector."
'Companies will hoard'
Dr Ashok Dhawale, national president, AIKS
Speaking to mid-day, Dr Ashok Dhawale, 68, national president of AIKS, said, "In its amendment of the Essential Commodities Act, the government has removed the limit of the amount of farm produce that big traders and companies can take. Up until now, big companies could not get these essential items beyond a certain limit. This will result in tremendous hoarding and black marketing. The Essential Commodities Act was made to safeguard the needs of consumers, but once this limit is removed, the firms will be able to hoard as much as they want and then wait for a crisis, when they will sell the commodities at high prices. This amendment is in favour of the corporates."
Dhawale further said, "The government is trying to wind up the APMCs by effectively allowing corporate companies to open purchasing centres. For the first one or two years, these big players might give the farmers a slightly better price than APMC, but after some time when APMCs won't exist, then companies will start drastically reducing the prices."
'Bills must be revoked'
When asked about their demands, he said, "The farm bills must be revoked. The government did not bother to consult any of the state governments or farmer organisations in the country. None of them demanded these laws, so why have they been passed? Agriculture, according to the Constitution of India, is a state subject, which means states have the power to make all laws related to it. The Centre has violated the principle of federalism by bringing in these bills without consulting the state governments and farmer organisations."
Aajji Bai who walked 200 km for a protest
A familiar face taking part in the protest was 75-year-old Kamli Balota, a resident of Dahanu, fondly known as Aajji Bai in the neighbourhood. She had walked 200 km from Nashik to Mumbai in 2018 during a long march of farmers that had taken place.
When asked what drew her to the protest site, she said, "We have been treated like ghulams. It is our responsibility to ensure that our next generation does not suffer the same fate. That is why I am here. We have to be non-violent in our struggle, but yet, have a voice loud enough to be heard."
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