Mumbai, Aug 1 (IANS) The All India Kisan Sabha and other affiliated organisations led an agitation for milk farmers by stopping vehicles carrying milk from going to nearby towns or big cities, at dawn here on Saturday.
AIKS President Ashok Dhawale led the farmers in Palghar and AIKS general secretary Ajit Nawale spearheaded the agitation in Ahmednagar when tankers, vans and tempos were stopped from plying and the milk was emptied on the roads. At other places, the milk was donated to the poor and slum-dwellers, especially in the major milk-producing regions of Western Maharashtra.
Dhawale said that the farmers are demanding a price support of Rs 5 per litre, which is very justified as production costs have catapulted and the price of milk has dropped below the rate of a bottle of water.
"The previous Maharashtra government had assured a support price of Rs 5/litre, but now the rate of milk has crashed by half for the farmers," Dhawale said.
He has attributed it to the "anti-farmer" decision of the Centre to reduce import duty on milk powder from 60 per cent to 15 per cent, which led to the import of 10,000 tonnes and consequently the milk powder prices fell steeply by half from Rs 320/kg, and more since 150,000 tonnes of milk powder was already in stock in the country.
Another prominent organization, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana did not join the agitation, but its chief Raju Shetti has threatened a bigger movement if the farmers' demands are not conceded within a week.
"The rural economy is virtually shattered by the Covid-19 pandemic. The dairy industry is a key supportive sector in the rural economy, providing livelihood to lakhs of farmers. But due to the lockdowns, milk consumption dropped by over 40 per cent and the milk is being converted to butter or skimmed milk powder," Shetti said.
He said that due to the increasing production of butter and milk powder, the stocks are increasing and the prices are dropping and have currently reached Rs 220 and Rs 280, respectively.
With growing stocks of butter and milk powder, the dairy owners are not ready to accept raw milk from the farmers and consequently they get barely Rs 18-20 per litre, resulting in a crisis in the dairy sector, he explained.
"Since these are in the ambit of the Centre, we have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking his urgent intervention to prevent dairies from shutting down, and help safeguard the milk producers of the country," said Shetti.
The demands are: The government should purchase and maintain buffer stocks of 30,000 tonnes of milk powder, provide Rs 30/kg subsidy for milk powder export, stop import of milk powder, completely withdraw GST on all dairy products -- which ranges from 5 per cent to 12 per cent -- till the pandemic situation is over to enable people to consume more milk products.
Dhawale said the milk agitation concerns not only Maharashtra, but all the eight crore milk producing farmers who churn out 195 million tonnes of milk as per the government's official figures.
The AIKS' Coordination Committee -- a pan-India platform with more than 250 farmers' organisations -- had earlier warned of a more intense nationwide agitation if the milk farmers' demands are not met before August 9.
The Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies like the RPI(A), held a separate agitation in the state on Saturday demanding better prices for the milk farmers.