After travelling almost 180 km under the blazing sun over the last six days, an estimated 50,000 farmers participating in the ‘long march‘ reached Mumbai on Sunday night.
The protesters halted at the KJ Somaiya Ground in Sion before making their way to Azad Maidan during the wee hours.
The agitators marched overnight to avoid inconveniencing Mumbaikars and students, many of whom are appearing for their HSC, SSC, CBSE, ICSE and ISC exams.
These #Farmers wl b marching in d Midnight to avoid any inconvenience to your children who r appearing for board exams. Now B4 u question or abuse them, remembr, they too r fighting fr a better future of their children. #LongMarch #FarmersMarch #FarmersProtest #KisanLongMarch pic.twitter.com/PacvRfmEbu
— Kamlesh Sutar (@kamleshsutar) March 11, 2018
Mumbai, in turn, reciprocated by offering them food and water at various spots along their route.
Some even donated their footwear to farmers who had reached the city with blistered feet and broken chappals.
On Monday morning, Azad Maidan turned into a sea of red as thousands of farmers, carrying red flags, converged in the maximum city to embark on to their march towards State Assembly. The crowd comprised of men, women, youngsters and elderly.
While the initial estimates pegged the number of participating farmers between 25,000 to 30,000, the numbers swelled to 50,000 along the way, organisers said.
The farmers plan to surround the assembly complex to press for their demands of an unconditional loan waiver, and transfer of forest land to tribal farmers who have been tilling it for years.
“We will gherao the Vidhan Bhavan on Monday to demand a complete loan waiver, fair price for farm produce, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations, compensation for hailstorm-affected farmers among other things,” Kisan Gujar, President of the state council of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) told PTI.
The CPI(M)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha, which is spearheading the protest, said it will consider what the government has to offer.
CPI(M) leader Ashok Dhawle said over 50,000 people have joined the protest. “We will begin our rally after 11 am today so that students appearing for their Class 10 board exam don’t face any difficulties,” he said.
Tribals from Thane district have joined the farmers from Nashik district in the protest. Maharashtra minister Girish Mahajan, who welcomed the march at Mulund in suburban Mumbai on Sunday, said the government, which has met earlier demands by farmers, will consider their latest ones.
The opposition Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and also Shiv Sena, which is part of the BJP-led ruling alliance in the state, have extended support to the farmers’ demands.
MNS chief Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray met the farmers on Sunday. In November last year, the state government announced a farm loan waiver, terming it the “biggest loan waiver in Maharashtra’s history”.
Last month, state governor Vidyasagar Rao told the state legislature that the government has transferred over Rs 12,000 crore into bank accounts of 31 lakh farmers.
Farmers also want the implementation of the M. S. Swaminathan Commission report, which says farmers should be paid one-and-a-half times the cost of production and the Minimum Support Price should be fixed keeping this in mind.
While there is no likelihood of all farmers being allowed to proceed to the Assembly complex from Azad Maidan, a delegation of farmer leaders will be allowed to meet chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.
— ANI (@ANI) March 12, 2018
The CM has already formed a six-member committee to look into the demands of the agitated farmers.
Meanwhile, contrary to reports, no road closure or diversions have been implemented due to the ongoing farmer’s protest, confirmed Amitesh Kumar, Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic).
Mumbai Police also tweeted that the traffic movements will remain normal just “like any other day” during the long march.
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Today, Traffic mvmt will be normal like any other day. Tr R no diversions proposed on any road in limits of Mumbai 4 the proposed ‘Long March’. We will be posting updates as and when required. Don’t believe in rumours. Contact @MumbaiPolice & Dial 100 for any such verification.
— Mumbai Police (@MumbaiPolice) March 11, 2018