THOUSANDS of farmers and farm labourers from various districts of the state gathered in Nashik city before setting off on a six-day ‘long march’ to Mumbai on Tuesday afternoon. At least 10,000 protestors including a large number of women covered 15 km of the 180-km distance to the financial capital, where they plan to demonstrate outside the state legislature on various agrarian issues including the farm loan waiver and transfer of forest land to tillers. On Tuesday, protestors, mostly from the tribal belt, began to assemble at the CBS Chowk in Nashik, the location of the March 2016 struggle when around 1 lakh farmers had gathered for two days.

Apart from middle aged farmers and youngsters, a large number of women and senior citizens are part of the long march. The long march, called by the Left-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha (ABKS), would reach Mumbai on March 12. The Peasants and Workers Party and CPI also extended support to the long march. Approximately 1 lakh people are likely to join the long march before it reaches Mumbai, said ABKS leaders.

“We have been demanding that forest land we have been tilling for three decades be transferred in our name. While we have been tilling five acres of land, I have been given a certificate by the district authorities stating that I will get only 1.5 acres. It is not justifiable. What farming can we do on such a small plot of land? We are demanding land that we are tilling for decades, nothing else,” said Bibibai Kokate, a farmer from Khedgaon village in Dindori tehsil, Nashik.

A group of nine women, all farm labourers, said they should be given a portion of forest land for farming. “We are farm labourers and have no other source of income. Our children are not able to complete their education. Our demand is to give us some portion of the remaining forest land to till and earn something,” said Sushila Pawar from Lakhmapur village, Dindori.

Vilas Babar, a farmer from Parbhani, and a member of the ABKS said that the government must fulfill its promise of compensation for farmers whose land was hit by the pink bollworm recently. “Besides, we also want a complete loan waiver, without any conditions imposed,” said Babar. The approximately 10,000 protestors stopped near Valdevi river on Tuesday night, and will proceed further on Wednesday morning.

JP Gavit, CPI(M) legislator from Kalwan constituency in Nashik, said the state should improve implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. “Though the Act came in 2006 and the rules came in 2008, the government is not implementing it effectively. As per the Act, only 5 or 10 gunthas is being given to farmers, which is nothing. The farmers can’t do anything with it. We just want the land that tribals have been tilling for decades to be given to them. It may be five, seven or ten acres,” said Gavit.

Gavit further said they oppose any move to share river water with Gujarat through agreements. “Instead of giving water to Gujarat, it should be diverted to drought-hit parts of the state,” he added.

Ajit Nawale, the state general secretary of the Kisan Sabha, said though these demands were raised two years ago, no progress has been made. “We don’t want announcements, we want it to happen. We will not leave the Assembly premises until our issues are resolved,” sad Nawale. Ashok Dhawale, president of the ABKS, said the Left parties and secular parties would come together on issues to fight the BJP government across the country.

 Indian Express