Ahead of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna’s (SSS) ambitious protest to close all milk collection centres in the State to demand justice for dairy farmers, MP Raju Shetti spoke to Prathmesh Patil about the agitation and other issues before he left for Pandharpur, where he would launch the agitation.
Q: Why are you undertaking this agitation?
Shetti: We want justice for dairy farmers. According to even modest estimates, to produce a litre of milk, Rs 35 worth of inputs are needed. The government had declared last year that dairies will have to pay at least Rs 27 a litre to the farmers. However, citing an international collapse of milk prices and milk powder prices, dairies have paid
Rs 20, Rs 19 and in some cases, even Rs 14 a litre to the farmers. So as a part of freedom of business, the farmers are deciding to stop selling their produce at an enormous loss to themselves.
Q: But the government says that it has been giving subsidies to farmers.
Shetti: Those subsidies are a sham. First, the government announced Rs 3 subsidy per litre of milk for milk powder producing dairies so that they pass on the benefit to the farmers. The dairies took some Rs 50 crore worth of subsidies and reduced the rates for farmers further. Then recently, the government announced a subsidy of Rs 5 per litre to milk and Rs 50 per kg to milk powder and again only for milk powder producers. The benefit will never reach the farmers.
Q: But how will you ensure that such large scale collection of milk will stop?
Shetti: The SSS is just a representative of the farmers’ sentiments. We are just organising the protest, but the dairy farmers are supportive of the move. We have been preparing for these protests for the past one-and-a-half months and have reached out to hundreds of villages and created awareness among farmers. We have also received support from many dairies and farmers’ leaders like Hardik Patel who has promised that the farmers from Gujarat will stand in solidarity with Maharashtra farmers and not send a drop of milk to the state.
Q: How long will you protest?
Shetti: We will protest till the government listens to us and bows down. We will make the government kneel now. If the government tries to pressurise the farmers using political or economic pressure, we will not hesitate to take the law into our hands. We will not stop untill the farmers are given justice.
Q: Did the government try to talk to you before the protests begin?
Shetti: Not a single letter or any attempt to communicate has been done. State Minister Mahadev Jankar called as a formality and just reiterated that the government has taken some steps to help farmers but did not elaborate to support his claims.
Q: Urban consumers are thinking they are being taken for a ride for no fault of theirs.
Shetti: We are not against consumers. We are rather saying that while the consumer is paying hefty prices for milk, why is that benefit not reaching the farmers who produce it? We are not asking the consumer to pay extra but for the government to pay a direct subsidy of Rs 5 per litre to the farmers. We are still going to collect milk and distribute it to hostels, poor people and warkaris at Pandharpur. If the consumers want, they can come to us and take the milk for free.