Thousands of farmers march to Mumbai to demand help
March 12, 2018 | 5:04 PM
Farmers listen to a speaker at a rally organised by All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) in Mumbai, India March 12, 2018. Photo - Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

Mumbai: Tens of thousands of protesting farmers from India's Maharashtra state marched into the state capital of Mumbai on Monday to demand government support to address hardship in a sector that employs the majority of the country's workforce.

The protesters walked 180km (112 miles) from the town of Nashik to Mumbai over several days demanding waivers of agricultural loans and the transfer of forest lands to villagers who have been tilling them for decades.

"For three generations my family has cultivated crops on a two acre-plot, but we still don't own it," said 74 year-old Murabhai Bhavar as she poured water to soothe her aching feet. "The land we till should be registered in our name."

It was the second major protest by farmers in less than a year and put pressure on the state government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been facing angry farmers in several other states.

Modi, who had promised to double farmers' income over five years, remains popular nearly four years into his term. But unrest has flared in states ruled by his party, catching regional leaders flat-footed.

The farmers, wearing red caps and waving red communist party flags, chanted slogans demanding higher food grain and milk prices as they marched through south Mumbai, where many big companies and the central bank have headquarters.

Farmers' leaders met representatives of the state government, including Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who assured them the government would meet their demands. "Within six months, all disputes related to forest lands will be settled," Fadnavis said.

Maharashtra, India's most prosperous state, announced a farm loan waiver of 340 billion rupees ($5.23 billion) in June 2017, but the protest leaders said it failed to benefit all needy farmers.

The state has transferred 138 billion rupees to the accounts of 3.6 million farmers, state Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said last week. Mumbai traffic was largely unaffected as farmers reached the city at around midnight on Sunday but police said they were on alert in case of disruption later. The state government arranged a train to take farmers back home late on Monday, Fadnavis said.

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