The All India Kisan Sabha launched protests across the milk belt of Maharashtra on Monday. Thousands of farmers from Nashik, Ahmednagar, Pune, Satara, Sangali, Kolhapur, Osmanabad and other districts gathered to raise their voice against the drop in prices of milk since the lockdown began. The AIKS has demanded that Rs 30 per litre of milk be set as the minimum rate. They also demanded an immediate subsidy of Rs 10 per litre for farmers. The state government has convened a meeting to find a solution on Tuesday, July 21.
According to the state's dairy development ministry, there are about three crore milk-producing animals in Maharashtra. The state’s daily collection of milk is around 116 lakh metric tonnes. Maharashtra is the second-largest milk producing state in India after Uttar Pradesh. As per the ministry, 47 lakh farmers are dependent on the dairy business in the state. It is a business which provides weekly cash to dairy farmers so that they can cover their regular expenses.
Before the lockdown, a milk producing farmer in Maharashtra was able to get between Rs 30 to Rs 35 (depending on the fat content of milk) per litre of milk. However, the lockdown due to COVID-19 caused a dramatic fall in prices, which came down by 50%, and farmers are now getting Rs 17 to Rs 22 per litre.
According to Dr. Ajit Navale, state general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, farmers did not even get the benefit of the state government's milk powder scheme. This scheme was announced to help the farmers during the lockdown, with the state supposed to buy leftover milk from farmers to produce milk powder.
"More than 70% of the farmers did not receive its benefits because the state government kept private dairies out of the scheme. Only 12% of milk producing farmers could avail its benefits and, as a result, the state government could achieve only half of its target for milk powder," said Dr. Navale.
The faulty scheme and the lockdown have resulted in losses worth crores of rupees for milk producing farmers in the state since March. To restore the situation, the AIKS is demanding a direct benefit of Rs 10 per litre to the farmers’ accounts. "There is no use of meetings. The state government should help the farmers immediately. It can do it by transferring Rs 10 per litre directly to farmers’ accounts," said Ashok Dhavale, president of AIKS. The AIKS will put forward the same demand at the meeting.
Other farmers’ organisations, like the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS), will attend the meeting. According to Raju Shetti, former MP and leader of SSS, relief can be given to farmers in two ways. "The state government needs to hike the rates. Also, the Union Government has to revoke its decision to import milk powder; it should rather support the export of the powder. It should be done so that farmers can be benefited and the rates of milk will be restored to pre-lockdown prices," said Shetti.
The AIKS and the Dudh Utpadak Shetkari Sangharsha Samiti are planning on launching protests in the milk belt of Maharashtra – from Jalgaon to Sangali. "AIKS members submitted a memorandum to tehsil and district officers on Monday. This protest will go on for the entire week," said Dhavale.
Meanwhile, the state government is trying to find a middle ground between dairies and farmers. “We have called representatives of dairy owners as well as farmers’ leaders. We will try to find a solution. Increasing milk rates for farmers is one of many solutions," said dairy development minister Sunil Kedar.
As the AIKS has already taken a lead and launched the agitation, Maharashtra's principal opposition party, the BJP, has called for a protest as well. On Tuesday, the BJP will hold agitations all across the state. However, the Congress, part of the ruling coalition in the state, has responded to the move. “The BJP was supposed to protest on August 1 according to their earlier plan. However, since other organisations have come out on the ground and the state government has called for a meeting, the BJP is now trying to draw political mileage out of the issue. It is why they pre-poned their agitation to July 21," said Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant.