In the last few months, Maharashtra has been witnessing agitations after agitations, especially in its economically underdeveloped regions. The state has seen huge social unrests, which have led to bringing the normal business activity to a grinding halt and the general impression is that the frequency of these mass protests or agitations has increased a lot in the past three years or so.
Last year in June, the state witnessed first of its kind ‘farmers’ strike’ in which the farmers from many districts refused to go about their normal activity of bringing their food products for sale to the cities. The government had to finally announce loan waiver to bring the situation under control, then onion producers launched a protest in the second half of last year to protest import of onions from other countries which led to the prices crashing. This year, recently, the state witnessed a massive agitation by milk producers demanding higher rate for milk and subsidy to be given by the government to them.
And now a massive agitation by Maratha organisations is being witnessed demanding reservations in education and government jobs. So, one after the other, there have been several agitations in the state over economic demands from various sections. Demand for reservation in education and jobs is at the end of the day an ‘economic issue’ as this section of the society is making the demand obviously as they are economically weak and cannot afford expensive private education. So all these agitations that are seen in Maharashtra have roots in economic distress.
Experts feel that the two big reasons for this distress which is mainly felt in rural areas of the state since the past few years are a) fragmentation of land which has occurred repeatedly over the past few decades, and b) the dropping prices of agricultural products which leads to an agrarian crisis in most parts of the state.
If one speaks to any farmer in any part of Maharashtra, one would get an idea of how hard the situation is for them. Credit flow is very limited and uncertain, nature is unpredictable and prices of agro products in the markets have wide fluctuations. All this leads to a situation where farming or agriculture becomes a financially unviable profession. Fragmentation of land happening over generations and land holding diminishing gradually has led to further problems.
This overall situation has pushed people towards taking up jobs instead of agriculture and it leads to unrest because the availability of jobs is very limited in the present economic environment.
Most agitations happening in Maharashtra currently have their roots in this economic crisis. The demands may seem legitimate looking at the distress people are facing. However, maintaining peace is a priority for the government and right to agitate can be granted as long as the agitations are peacefully carried out. The issues can be solved in the long-term by reviving agriculture sector and industrial investment in the state. A good monsoon is now in sight and reforms such as the introduction of Goods and Services Tax (GST) are now settled. Maharashtra should now look forward to a revival in its rural economy.