Pune: In a massive protest rally on Friday, Raju Shetti, who leads the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna (SSS), said that if the government follows through its plan to change the FRP (Fair and Remunerative Price) payment procedures from those decided earlier, the SSS will make sure the lotus is not seen anywhere in the sugar belt in the 2019 election.
The Kaifiyat Morcha, announced almost a fortnight ago by the SSS, began at 1 pm from Alka Talkies Chowk and almost 7,000 farmers from Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara, Solapur, Karad, Latur, Osmanabad and other primarily sugar growing areas began walking amid a light drizzle and the sound of the whiplash and halgi (hand drum).
The rally passed via FC Road, stopping at the Tukaram Paduka temple and culminating near the road that goes towards Sakhar Sankul (Sugar Commissionerate) from Agriculture College, where the police put up barricades.
The primary purpose of the rally was to demand payment of FRP for this year’s sugarcane season as thousands of farmers are yet to get their payments even as sugar stocks have reached the market. Sugar factories are saying that banks had devalued loans because of a drop in market rates of sugar. So, they have no funds to make payments.
The farmers are not able to avail loans for the next season as their earlier loans are yet to be repaid. They face the risk of having to pay 14 pc interest on loans taken under the Panjabrao Deshmukh Scheme, the deadline for which ends on June 30. “The farmer has come to Pune not to beg but to demand his right. The farmer faces issues everywhere, even in this protest, but even rain gods appeared to welcome him to the city,” Shetti said.
A delegation led by Shetti met the sugar commissioner and Pune district milk officials. Shetti obtained from the officials an assurance that action will be taken against factories that have delayed payments to farmers or have paid lower than FRP. Addressing farmers outside the commissionerate, Shetti said, “According to the law, factories have to include transportation costs in the payments of the farmers within a 25-km radius. But factories purchase cane from far away at lower costs and use the money of the local farmer to earn profits. The commissioner has agreed there will be action on factories by July 21 and banks will be told to release more funds within eight days. If the promises are not fulfilled, the farmer knows how to get his rights.”
Shetti came down hard on the BJP. “There is a plan by the government to raise the limit of recovery from the earlier Rs 9.5 to 10. This means the farmer will lose Rs 150 per tonne. If the government even touches the present limit, the SSS will ensure that the lotus will not be seen anywhere in 2019. Dairy farmers need to be given Rs 5 per litre directly instead of cosmetic solutions,” he said.
Shetti spit fire over the incident of a bank manager demanding sexual favours from the wife of a farmer who had applied for a crop loan.
“Women from farming families are not to be taken for granted. If there is even one such incident in Maharashtra again, I tell you to first break the bones of the perpetrator and come to me,” he said.
“The cooperative minister himself runs factories, which have Rs 60 crore of payments pending. The robber himself is incharge of the treasury. We will show him what we can do if he doesn’t pay the amount,” he added.
While traffic slowed down to a snail’s pace because of the massive rally in the Deccan Gymkhana and Shivajinagar area, the excellent management of the Pune traffic police ensured the smooth passage of the rally. Blocked roads were opened as soon as the rally passed. The traffic at Shivajinagar though continued to be slow because of the stalled rally. Puneites seemed to not complain and had their own ‘Mumbai Long March’ moment as they clicked selfies and took videos of the marching farmers.