The farmers, most of them wearing red caps and holding up flags with the sickle and hammer symbol, began the protest march from Nashik on Tuesday evening and are walking the 180 km to Mumbai with night halts every 30 odd km. Along the way, as a hot sun tires them out, villagers offer the protesting farmers water.
For the 25,000 people the gram panchayats have collected food grains like rice and dal which are carried in vehicles that move along with the march. At locations which have been chosen, villagers themselves cook the food and serve it to everyone. Simple meals of rice, dal, bhakri and vegetables are prepared.
The administration has made arrangements for movable toilets and the farmers usually camp on the banks of rivers where they bathe and freshen up. Lights have also been put up to ensure security and policemen have also been posted.
The farmers say their main demand is for a waiver of all loans and the implementation of the Swaminathan Committee report, which says farmers should be paid one and a half times the cost of production for what they produce and the MSP's should be fixed keeping this in mind. The march has been organised by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), which is affiliated to the Left.
The Maharashtra government has been under pressure after continuous protests by farmers who allege that the Fadnavis government did not honour assurances given to them when it announced a conditional farm loan waiver of Rs 34,000 crore in June last year.
Raju Desle secretary of AIKS claimed that 1,753 debt-ridden farmers have killed themselves in Maharashtra since June last year.
"I have a loan of Rs 3 lakh. I filled the form for a loan waiver three months ago but got no reply from the bank," said Tukaram Chaudhary, a 65-year farmer who grows bajra and maize, as he walked towards Mumbai.
45-year-old Narayan Gavit said he has been farming on the same land his ancestors did, but the land has not yet been transferred to the family. "Our land has not been transferred to our name. We have been tilling the land since 1957. My ancestors died tilling this land and I also may die but I don't know when the land will be transferred," he said.
"We want the state government to refrain from forceful acquisition of farm lands in the name of development projects like the super highway and tracks for bullet trains," said Raju Desle. The farmers are also demanding a complete change in the river linking scheme proposed to be implemented in Nashik, Thane and Palghar so that tribal villages are not submerged.
The farmers also want a complete change in the river linking scheme proposed to be implemented in Nashik, Thane and Palghar so that tribal villages are not submerged.
The Maharashtra government has sent a memorandum to the Centre seeking financial assistance of Rs. 2,400 crore for pink bollworm attacks on cotton crops and damage to crops caused by hailstorms and unseasonal rain, Agriculture Minister Pandurang Fundkar told Press Trust of India. The centre, he said, is yet to release the funds.