Maharashtra to Madhya Pradesh, anger on farms worsens with violent protests, more suicides

Mumbai: From violent protests against a military airbase planned on farmland to increasing desperation among onion growers ahead of the monsoon rain, fresh farm protests swept through parts of western and central India on June 22.
Hundreds of farmers held up traffic, clashed with security personnel and burned down four police vehicles to protest against a proposed airbase on the outskirts of Mumbai, leaving at least 26 people, including policemen, injured. They were demanding their land acquired by the government be returned.
Local resentment had been building against plans to revive a World War II airbase at Nevali, about 45 km northeast of Mumbai. But the protests took an unexpected violent turn with stick-wielding protesters blocking a busy local road and clashing with police.
In Madhya Pradesh, tempers flared as 15,000 tractors and pickups laden with onion queued up for a third day to sell at wholesale markets before the monsoon rain begins to spoil the produce. The state also saw four more farmers commit suicide over the past 24 hours, including one in chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s constituency, after failing to repay crop loans.
Anger among farmers has grown across several states, over dwindling crop income largely because of a supply glut and a cash crunch triggered by the government’s demonetization move last November. This year, four states have announced financial bailouts to assuage farm distress.
Farmland acquisition for industrial and infrastructure projects has also long been a lightning rod for protests in India with farmers often accusing authorities of forcibly taking away land or acquiring it cheaply.
The violence in Nevali village started around 8 am, police said. Officers and reinforcements were sent from nearby Thane. Many locals said they reacted after police used batons on the protesters, including women. They also said police had fired at them.
“We have been protesting silently (for some time). Since the government failed to take our demands into consideration, we had to protest violently,” said Hemant Bhal, a resident of the nearby Bhal village.
“People living in the village don’t have their own land. They have to live on rent.”
An assistant police commissioner was among the injured. “Some of our policemen suffered injuries while trying to control the situation,” said an officer who did not wish to be named.
More than 700 km to the north, farmers in Madhya Pradesh despaired over a different challenge – how to sell their annual onion crop before the onset of the monsoon rains.
The state has seen a glut of onion, potato and tomato crops this year, leading to a spate of suicide among farmers unable to repay crop loans. The government then offered to buy some of the produce but the procurement hasn’t been uniform across the state or fast enough to beat the rains.
Raja Sawalia, a 47-yerar-old farmer from Sehore district, said he has been waiting for three days to sell 60 quintals of onion at a wholesale market near Bhopal.
He is afraid if it rains now his onions will start to rot and the government will not buy them.
“I am hoping to sell the onions for about Rs 50,000,” Sawalia said.
“It will help me pay off my loans and for my kids’ school and college.”

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