Indian farmers back in Mumbai to demand land rights, loan waivers

MUMBAI (REUTERS) – Tens of thousands of farmers from India’s western state of Maharashtra marched to the state capital, Mumbai, on Thursday (Nov 22) to demand loan waivers and the transfer of forest lands to villagers who have farmed there for decades.

It was the latest protest by farmers against a state government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which faces a general election in May and a handful of state polls in the coming weeks.

Indian farmers voted overwhelmingly for Mr Modi in 2014. But a fall in rural incomes risks damaging that support next year.

The protesters chanted slogans demanding land transfers and compensation for drought-hit areas as they marched through Mumbai, home to many big companies and the central bank.

“For generations we have been tilling the land, but on paper we don’t own it,” said Mr Remsingh Pawara, who joined a similar protest in March when the state government promised to settle the land rights issue.

“More than eight months have passed since the government promised to resolve our problems, but nothing has been done,”said Mr Pawara, who farms a two-hectare plot of forestry land in western India.

“Forest department officials still harass us,” he added.

The farmers, mostly from the tribal belt in western India, are also demanding farm loan waivers and higher prices for food grain, milk and other produce.

The protest leaders are to meet Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and other state representatives later on Thursday, a government official said.

Mr Fadnavis promised after the March protests to settle all disputes related to forest lands within six months.

“We will continue protests in Mumbai until the government gives us written assurances around settling our problems in a time-bound manner,” said protest leader Pratibha Shinde.

Maharashtra, India’s most prosperous state, announced a farm loan waiver of 340 billion rupees (S$6.56 billion) in June 2017, but protest leaders said it did not benefit all farmers in need.

Mumbai traffic was largely unaffected as most office workers were at their desks when the farmers marched through the city.

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