A number of farmer outfits, including the Raju Shetti-led Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS), staged a symbolic, day-long ‘milk agitation’ on Tuesday, demanding higher milk prices and subsidies for dairy farmers even as Maharashtra Dairy Development Minister Sunil Kedar said the State government will soon come up with a scheme to address their financial woes.
Mr. Kedar met representatives of the SSS, the Sadabhau Khot-led Rayat Shetkari Sanghatana, the left-affiliated All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), and milk cooperatives, at Mantralaya in Mumbai. However, the meeting was inconclusive.
“There have been a number of demands ranging from giving a subsidy of ₹10 per litre on cow’s milk to providing export subsidies on milk powder and waiving off the GST on ghee, butter and milk powder. I have taken note of all these. But I appeal to farmers not to waste milk during their agitation, especially at these critical times with the pandemic raging in the State,” Mr. Kedar said.
He assured that the Maha Vikas Aghadi government will not let dairy farmers suffer financially. “The State will soon come out with a scheme to strengthen dairy farmers financially,” the minister said.
Mr. Khot and leaders of other outfits, however, expressed disappointment and warned of intensifying the agitation in the coming days.
“Milk prices have come crashing down to ₹18-20 per litre for the last two months. The pandemic has hit around 50 lakh dairy farmers and producers in the State. We have urged the State to provide direct financial assistance to them by depositing ₹10 per litre in their bank accounts and give a subsidy of ₹50 per kg of milk powder,” Mr. Khot said.
Ajit Nawale of the AIKS said, “Today’s meeting with Mr. Kedar, in a sense was disappointing, as the State gave no concrete assurances or proposed any intervention schemes bases on our demands. Our agitation will continue till the State government announces some tangible financial scheme.” He also said that if the State did not pay heed to the agitation, farmers would spill milk outside the residences of ruling party leaders.
Meanwhile, the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has demanded that dairy farmers be given an increase of ₹10 per litre on cow’s milk failing which the party will launch an agitation from August 1.
Mr. Khot, an ally of the BJP and a bitter adversary of Mr. Shetti, further said constituents of the ‘Maha Yuti’ alliance, along with other farmer outfits, would decide on their course of action in the next two days.
In Kolhapur, Satara and Sangli districts in western Maharashtra — the State’s sugar and dairy heartland — SSS activists were seen stopping milk tankers.
The agitation gained momentum in the Marathwada region as well.
At Karad in Satara district, SSS activists stopped a milk tanker and poured milk on the driver while in Kolhapur, a Gokul milk tanker was vandalised. In Beed district, the tyres of two milk tankers bound for Hyderabad were deflated by agitators.
At Pandharpur in Solapur district, tyres were burnt on late Monday night and placed as barricades to stop milk trucks moving out of the temple town.
In Kolhapur and Buldhana, farmers were seen bathing themselves with milk. In Beed, slogans were raised against the MVA government while in Jalna district, Mr. Shetti’s party activists indulged in a free milk distribution drive.
“We will take a call on the future course of action and announce our decision in the next 8-10 days. Today we followed lockdown regulations. But if the Centre and the State do not accede to our demands, we will come out in strength and protest. It is a do or die situation for dairy farmers,” Mr. Shetti said.