Thousands of Indian farmers march to demand government help

The massive Long March of the Maharashtra unit of the All India Kisan Sabha. Express

The tribal farmers reached Thane on Sunday morning and Somaiya ground at Chunabhatti in the evening.

Local reports said that the farmers, a lot of them wearing red caps and holding up flags with the sickle and hammer symbol, have covered 30km on foot every day to reach Mumbai.

The 180-km-long march commenced on March 5 from the CBS Chowk in Central Nashik. Among other things, the farmers are demanding a complete waiver of loans, implementation of M.S. Swaminathan Commission recommendations (which ensures fair remuneration), waiver of power bills and transfer of forest lands.

The group, which includes children, women and elderly, says the government has not implemented the loan waivers it promised past year. This farmers' ire will destroy the government, says the Sena in its mouthpiece "Saamana'".

AIKS Maharashtra President Ashok Dhavale pointed out that the crisis in the farmlands is very severe with "over 400,000 farmers committing suicides in the past 25 years".

Maharashtra minister Girish Mahajan, who welcomed the march at Mulund in suburban Mumbai yesterday, said the government, which has met earlier demands by farmers, will consider their latest ones.

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"We will talk to them and sort out their issues".

He added that they chose to resume the march at 10 am instead early morning because of the SSC examination. "We had one riot force team and a strike team along with police teams posted from nearby stations", Mahesh Shetty, senior police inspector, Shahapur police station said. Many farmers leaders said that it should not be considered as a communist protest as it is for the betterment of the farmers.

The protests come at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Maharashtra government has been facing flak from the opposition and ally Shiv Sena for being "anti-farmer" ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha and assembly polls. "Most of the agitators are tribals, and their main demand is forest land rights".

The farmers have been covering 30 km every day since they started out from Nashik on March 6. "While we believe that the number of protesters would grow on Monday", an IPS officer said.

Apart from Shiv Sena, which is part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, the march on Saturday received support from Raj Thackeray, who heads the rival Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).

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