Thousands of farmers march to Mumbai seeking government support

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MUMBAI (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of farmers from Maharashtra reached the state capital of Mumbai on Monday to protest what they called a lack of government support despite severe distress within the sector that employs the majority of the country’s workforce.

The protestors walked 180 kilometres (112 miles) from Nashik to Mumbai over the course of a few days and plan to stage a sit-in protest outside the state legislative assembly building, where the annual budget session is underway.

The farmers are demanding waivers on agricultural loans in the aftermath of unseasonal rains that destroyed crops as also more support from the government, fair prices for crops and the transfer of forest lands to tribals, who have been tilling them for decades.

Road traffic was largely unaffected in the city as farmers reached south Mumbai on Sunday around midnight but police are on alert in case of possible traffic disruption later in the day.

This is the second major local protest by farmers in less than a year and has put pressure on the state government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been facing farmers ire in various states.

Modi, who had promised to double farmers’ income over five years, remains a popular leader nearly four years into his term. But unrest has flared in states ruled by his party, catching regional leaders flat-footed.

“The state government has started discussions with us. We will not end our protest until they give us written assurances around fulfilling our demands,” said Ajit Nawale, state general secretary, All India Kisan Sabha, the organiser of the march.

The farmers wearing red caps and waving red communist party flags chanted slogans demanding higher food grain and milk prices in south Mumbai, where many big Indian companies and the central bank are headquartered.

Maharashtra, India’s most prosperous state, had announced a farm loan waiver of 340 billion rupees ($5.23 billion) in June 2017, but the protest leaders said it failed to benefit all needy farmers.

The state has so far transferred 138 billion rupees to the accounts of 3.6 million farmers, state’s Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said last week.

All major opposition parties and the Shiv Sena, a coalition partner in the state government, are supporting the protesting farmers.

($1 = 65.0075 Indian rupees)

Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav and Swati Bhat; Editing by Euan Rocha and Gopakumar Warrier

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