Led by the CPI(M) affiliated All India Kisan Sabha leaders Ashok Dhawale, Jiva Pandu Gavit and politburo member Nilotpal Basu, the farmers marched in the summer heat with their feet bearing the brunt of the hot summer sun.
The 15,000 farmers reminded the government that it is yet to fulfill its promise of addressing their demands presented when 50,000 of them marched to Mumbai earlier this year that drew national attention and sympathy.
Farmers say the state government has been slow in fulfilling the demands it agreed to when 50,000 farmers marched from Nashik to Mumbai with bleeding feet, demanding transfer of land rights and implementation of the forest rights act, small dams for irrigation, pension, and several other demands including minimum support prices for their produce.
All India Kisan Sabha President Ashok Dhawale told NDTV, “Apart from the demands that the long march achieved but which have not been implemented we are taking up two major issues today. One is total opposition of the farmers to the bullet train project and the super highway project. Both these projects are going to have forcible acquisition of land across Thane and Palghar.”
Farmers whose land would have to be acquired say they are being coerced in spite of opposing the survey of their land to begin the acquisition process.
41-year-old Chandrakant Vartha says he still hasn’t been compensated for land acquired for expansion of the national highway a few years ago. He currently owns five acres of land in Dahela village now and has nine mouths to feed at home with the income from farming. The bullet train project will acquire three acres of his land which he is unwilling to part with.
“Our future generations will live off the land. When they came to survey the land they threatened us. We fear our land will be taken away so we don’t let them survey the land. Once we sent them away… they keep coming back and say you have to give your land,” Mr Vartha told NDTV.
Another farmer, 41-year-old Ramesh Ghute, will lose his entire four acres of land. He has seven people to feed at home and farming is his only source of income. He participated in the long march from Nashik to Mumbai earlier this year and says his entire village had gathered to protest against the survey for land acquisition forcing officials to cancel the survey on April 28.
Angry with the government for not consulting the panchayat, Ramesh Ghute told NDTV, “The land is our mother. If we have it we can feed ourselves. If we lose our land we will have nothing left. We will die but not give our land for the bullet train project. Our village has decided this.”
The CPI(M) which is leading the farmers’ protest through the All India Kisan Sabha says with rural discontent growing it’s an opportunity for the Opposition to build consensus to take on the BJP. CPI(M) politburo member Nilotpal Basu told NDTV, “We are fighting and there is an excellent response. We will continue to not only independently go and mobilise the people but also broaden the unity so that there is a fresh realignment of political forces that can offer a national alternative to the policies of the Modi Government.”
But the BJP alleges the farmers are being misled and they will come around when they see their gain in supporting these projects. Revenue Minister of Maharashtra Chandrakant Patil told NDTV, “For every big project there are misunderstandings in the beginning and there is opposition. When people understand that development is necessary and they will be compensated, the agitation ends.”
With the 2019 elections drawing near, rural discontent especially over issues like land acquisition is one weak point the BJP faces. The left and other opposition parties realise that mobilisation over these issues could actually lead to results in the 2019 elections which is why protest like these are more likely to be seen over the next few days.
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