As the farmers’ agitation continued in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena ministers today skipped the Cabinet meeting today amid its sharp attack on the Narendra Modi-led central government over the distress among the agriculturists. Meanwhile, a state convention of farmers has been called tomorrow in Nashik, around 150 km from here, by the Kisan Kranti Morcha (KKM) to discuss the future course of the agitation which entered the seventh day today. The convention has been called amid a rift among the protesters due to which substantial farm produce has started reaching the markets, thus stabilising the soaring prices gradually. Politics over the farmers agitation in the state intensified with Shiv Sena ministers skipping the Cabinet meeting. The Sena ministers held a meeting at the official residence of industries minister Subhash Desai, ahead of the Cabinet meet. The Sena hit out at the Centre for allegedly pushing debt-ridden farmers into greater despair and allowing their farms to fall into ruin by ‘brandishing the knife’ of demonetisation.
Sena president Uddhav Thackeray ridiculed the government’s offer of holding talks only with “true” farmer leaders. In an editorial in the party mouthpiece ‘Saamana’, he asked, “Who are these farmers? Is there a real farmer in your ministry?” The editorial said, “After years, monsoon last year brought hope to farmers and they had a bumper production but the knife of demonetisation led them to sell their produce at dirt cheap rates. They couldn’t even recover their input costs and as a result, debt ridden farmers plunged deeper into losses.”
The bickering ally also questioned the “apathy” of the government towards the agricultural sector at a time when the industry and services sector kept receiving periodical boost for their development. Making light of the Sena ministers’ absence at the cabinet meeting, Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar of the BJP said, “The Sena ministers did not boycott the Cabinet meet but sought permission not to attend it which the chief minister granted.”
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Revenue minister Chandrakant Patil, also of the BJP, said, “It is not correct to say that Sena ministers came to the Cabinet (meet) and left in a huff. The Sena ministers arrived (at the meeting) and told the chief minister that Uddhav Thackeray is not here (in Mumbai) and they would not attend the Cabinet meeting, till they have a word with the Sena president.” Transport minister Diwakar Raote of the Shiv Sena said his party ministers did not attend the Cabinet meet.
Meanwhile, agitating farmers put a lock outside the house of BJP legislator R T Deshmukh from Majalgaon in Beed district. Security outside homes of ruling party legislators and MPs has been beefed up following the ‘lock up’ protest.
In Solapur’s Barshi, former state minister Dilip Sopal locked his house to express support for the farmers’ stir.
The developments come a day after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced that Maharashtra government will come out with a loan waiver for farmers before October 31, which will benefit 1.07 crore farmers with less than five acre land holding. “Before October 31, the distressed farmers who need help will be given a loan waiver. The modalities are being worked out and I can say with conviction that this will be the biggest loan waiver in Maharashtra’s history,” Fadnavis had said.
On the supplies’ front, substantial inflow of vegetables and fruits in Pune, Navi Mumbai and Vashi agricultural produce market committees (APMCs) has somewhat stabilised their prices, according to an official source. “The situation has slowly started normalising. Prices have come down as compared to the last three to four days,” the source said.
The situation has started returning to normal in Nashik and Ahmednagar districts, the epicentres of the stir.
Days after business remained subdued due to protests and shortage of supply, the Nashik APMC today received 64 quintals of vegetables.
Farmers in various parts of the state are protesting for a complete loan waiver, a guaranteed minimum support price for their produce, among other demands.
The Shiv Sena and the Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana, who are allies in the BJP-led government, are supporting the agitation being spearheaded by various farmers’ groups.
The farmers launched their stir on June 1, suspending supply of milk and vegetables to towns and cities.
After a partial loan waiver was announced by the Fadnavis government for small and marginal farmers last Saturday, a section of farmers announced withdrawal of their agitation.
However, protests continued as another section stuck to its demand for a blanket loan waiver.