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Millennium Post

In need of reforms

In need of reforms

Maharashtra farmers have once again hit the road and this time, a crowd of 10,000 farmers have marched from Thane to Mumbai's iconic Azad Maidan to press for their demands, which include loan waiver and land rights, among others. This is the second time in a year that farmers have marched to the financial capital of the country to highlight their plight and indifference of the successive governments to their problems. In March this year, more than 35,000 farmers from across Maharashtra had taken out a 180-km march from Nashik to Mumbai to press for their demands. The farmers were pacified only after the BJP government accepted all their demands and assured to implement them in a time-bound manner. But the farmers said the government has not met any of their demands since then. The organisers of the protest on Thursday said that every protester is carrying two kilograms of rice and one kilogram of dal with them and they will stay put in Mumbai unless their demands are met. A farmer from Jalgaon said that since he did not have enough money, he sold his goat so he can participate in the protest. He said that he had some land which was acquired by the forest department and now he works as a daily wager at someone else's farm. The farmers' plight has aggravated after the monsoon this year left many parts of Maharashtra in severe drought and they are demanding that the Fadnavis government's loan waiver scheme should be implemented properly and expeditiously.

The Assembly polls are due in Maharashtra in October next year and the political equations are not quite in favour of the Fadnavis government, the biggest problem being the alliance partner Shiv Sena echoing disconcerting notes. The opposition parties Congress and NCP have already announced an understanding to fight the upcoming Assembly elections in the state together. But before the Assembly election, the Lok Sabha elections would be held in May where both the ruling and the opposition parties will try to put up strong alliances against one another. Shiv Sena's grouse is that BJP is not leaving enough space for the junior saffron party by contesting most of the seats both in Assembly and Lok Sabha elections whereas Shiv Sena would want to be granted supremacy in the state politics in lieu of its whole-hearted support to BJP. And, if BJP does not pay heed to its demands, Shiv Sena would continue with its diatribe against the senior alliance partner, making things difficult from Mumbai to Ayodhya.

As Maharashtra has been at the centre of the aggravated agrarian crisis and saw thousands of poor farmers commit ting suicide after falling in local moneylenders' debt-trap and successive crop-failures, the issue is likely to become a serious political plank in the upcoming polls. Vidarbha and Marathwada are the regions which do not receive adequate rainfall even during the monsoon and Chief Minister Fadnavis who comes from the Vidarbha region is expected to understand the problem and tackle it effectively. The situation was further aggravated by the collapse of cooperatives and rural banks, which proved to be the launchpad for many a politician who calls the shots today in state and national politics.

The loan waiver scheme that the Fadnavis government launched has met the same fate as most other government schemes -- poor and tardy implementation, documentation issues, fudged and unreliable data about the farmers and their loans, and delays. At any rate, the scheme was not meant to solve the issue in its entirety but provide a one-time relief to the farmers. Sitting in the business and financial capital of India, the Maharashtra government was expected to find a more lasting and reliable solution to the farmers' plight. The Indian agriculture sector, whose contribution to the GDP is a little over 17 per cent, needs massive investments in revitalising the farms besides redefining and rediscovering the sweetness and beauty of agricultural activities. On the appeal of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri (1964-66), a large number of people had left well-paying jobs and returned to their farms and agricultural output improved drastically. But the momentum could not be maintained in absence of the focus of the successive governments and the same people regretted their decision when they could not send their children to expensive public schools that began to produce the new leaders in different sectors of the economy. If we want to achieve a breakthrough, piecemeal measures would not work and there is no alternative to big-ticket investments and corporate participation in the farm sector, whether in India or anywhere in the world.

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