When close to 30,000 farm workers and farmers decided to march to Mumbai with various demands, several political parties attempted to corner the state government, but chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ handling of the issue should be viewed as a political victory for him and his party.
The government and protesting farmers were able to break the impasse after a three-hour-long meeting on Monday in which the government agreed to sincerely look into their requests while promising time-bound action into some of them.
Fadnavis’ deft handling of the situation was evident in his speech to the Maharashtra Assembly, a small video clip of which covers all the salient points:
The march consisted primarily of landless labourers and tribal farmworkers with “a few” farmers. This seemingly innocuous introduction set the framework for the problem separately from what the Opposition and media were trying to portray. Throughout the day, the chief minister made a careful distinction between farmers and farm workers.
Fadnavis made it clear that Girish Mahajan, representing the state government, had already met the leaders of the march even before it began and assured them that the government would be willing to listen to them irrespective of whether they march or not. But the leaders were insistent on marching, therefore the state government ensured adequate support for the protesters on the route, including medical assistance. This statement effectively neutralised the virtue signalling from media and Opposition about the insensitivity of the government in letting farmers march in the summer heat and put the responsibility of this on the leaders of the protest.
The chief minister further reiterated that the route was designed and approved by the state government and praised the protesters for giving due consideration to the potential inconvenience caused to SSC students going for exams. The fact that the state representative, Mahajan, was with the protesters through the night further reinforced the impression of control and empathy.
He informed the house that the main demand of the protesters was with respect to the land that had not been allotted to the landless labourers who could not even get a loan. By making this distinction, Fadnavis again set the context of this march away from the potentially contentious loan waiver issue.
After assuring the house of the state government’s empathy towards protesters, Fadnavis held a closed-door meeting with the leaders of the protest. At the end of the meeting, an agreement was reached and the protesters agreed to call off the protest. In a press conference, Fadnavis appraised media of the salient points discussed and agreed upon:
He began by reiterating the fact that this was primarily a protest by tribal land labourers and farm workers and “a few farmers”. The main demand of the protesters was about forest lands either not allotted at all or allotment that fell short of eligibility criteria. The government made a very important decision about settling all litigation with respect to the same in a period of six months and has formed a special team for the same.
Those farmers/farmworkers who have documentation made before 2005 will be given all land accrued to them legally. One should note the careful wording and realise that what the chief minister has essentially promised is good governance (settling legal disputes speedily) and adherence to the law.
Fadnavis also mentioned that the protesters discussed problems related to irrigation, water scarcity and the need for river linking to solve the problems. The chief minister asserted that the water of the state shall remain in the state and that the government will take action for this. For the demand of additional 31 irrigation projects, Fadnavis promised a feasibility study and a decision after the study.
With regards to the demand of increasing payouts for beneficiaries of Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Shravan Bal Yojana, the chief minister noted that those belonging to the divyang category (persons with disability) were already approved for such increase and the state would be open to considering a further increase for all and would soon take a decision.
For cases pertaining to encroachment regularisation, Fadnavis told the press that he made the protesters aware of the decisions already taken by the government and is now constituting a special committee to look into the remaining cases.
About the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Sanman Yojana (the farm loan waiver scheme), the chief minister clarified that as the previous waiver scheme had come in 2008, the present scheme included all beneficiaries from 2009 onwards. However, it was pointed out that some farmers who had missed out on 2008 scheme were in danger of being left out of both the schemes. The government would consider all such cases from 2001 to 2008 as eligible for the present waiver.
About the demand to change the cut-off from June 2016 to June 2017, he remained firm and informed the protesters that it would not be fair on a large number of farmers who repaid the loan, however, the government would consider help for a few cases if needed. This was an important concession being sought by the protesters that could have had a cascading effect, and by sticking to his original cut-off, the state government won an important victory.
Fadnavis was told that in a few cases, only one of the spouses was getting the loan waiver while the other was not. To this, he responded that a government resolution was already in place directing to consider husband-wife and minor children under the scheme up to Rs 1.5 lakh. He assured the protesters that the banks would once again be informed about this. Equally importantly, the chief minister informed about the formation of a special committee to look into difficulties in implementation of loan waiver and resolve them.
About the minimum support price, Fadnavis informed the protesters about the working of the support price and accepted their demand of forming a Krushi Muly Ayog (farm produce price commission).
The chief minister closed his press conference by informing that the protesters were happy with the solutions offered to them and had agreed to call off the protest. In a gesture of unprecedented goodwill, the state government and railways arranged special trains for the protesters to return to Nashik.