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Maharashtra Milk Producers Agitation Intensifies, Suppliers Block Tankers

Milk tankers were blocked  in several districts of Maharashtra by protesters demanding hike in procurement price, even as Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis disapproved of the agitation and said the government is open for talks on any issue.

Patidar quota agitation leader Hardik Patel has also extended his support to the agitation, said Swambhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) Chief Raju Shetti, who is spearheading the protest.

Agitators blocked milk tankers in Pune, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Buldhana, Jalgaon and other places and emptied some of them on roads.

Six milk trucks were blocked on Pune-Solapur road and milk packets were also thrown at some places, a worker of the Sanghatana said.

Milk was also distributed free at several places in Pune by members of the Sanghatana, he said.

Impact of the protest was also felt on the Amul dairy's collection centres at Vasai and Virar towns in the neighbouring Palghar district as the cooperative giant decided not to collect milk from farmers.

Amul is the single largest supplier of milk to Mumbai.

If Amul's milk supply gets affected, the impact would be felt by consumers, a senior state government official said.

As many as 55 lakh milk pouches are sold in Mumbai every day, with the Gujarat-based Amul having the highest market share of 30 percent followed by Kolhapur-based Gokul, a dairy development department official earlier said.

Farmers' organisations are demanding a hike of Rs 5 per litre in milk procurement price and have decided to suspend milk supply to Mumbai and Pune from.

Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana Chief Raju Shetti said they were compelled to take up the agitation as the state government did not pay heed to their demands.

He said Hardik Patel has extended his support to the agitation and assured that his supporters will try to prevent milk trucks travelling from Gujarat to Maharashtra.

"We are not happy to waste milk but the government is protecting dairies and not considering farmers' woes," Shetti alleged.

"We have decided to protest out of compulsion as other ways to convince the government failed," Shetti said.

The agitation will intensify further if the state government fails to fulfil the demands, the Lok Sabha member from Kolhapur warned.

He said the Maharashtra government was trying to scuttle the protest by bringing milk from states likes Gujarat and Karnataka but they will make sure it does not enter the western state.

"Hardik Patel, while extending his support to the farmers' cause, assured us that his followers will prevent milk trucks from Gujarat to enter Maharashtra," he said.

Shetti also claimed that before the Sanghatana members could start a peaceful agitation late last night in Amravati district, they were detained by the police and that led the protest being intensified.

"The government is solely responsible for this," he said.

Protesters have been asked to indulge in a peaceful demonstration, but farmers are "very angry" and are themselves stopping milk tankers, Shetti said.

Meanwhile, members of various farmers' organisations decided to escalate their protest after they noticed that despite their opposition, several dairies were planning to supply milk to major cities like Mumbai and Pune.

The farmers' organisations blocked milk tankers in various districts of western Maharashtra and emptied the vehicles on roads.

Farmers have demanded a hike in milk purchase price by Rs 5 per litre, to which the state government as well as dairies have objected.

The districts of Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara and Pune in western Maharashtra -- the epicentre of the agitation -- are the major milk producers and suppliers to Mumbai and other major cities.

Besides, milk is also produced on a large scale in Ahmednagar, Nashik, Jalgaon, Nanded and Parbhani districts.

Meanwhile, Fadnavis disapproved of the agitation launched by milk suppliers and said the government was open for talks on any issue.

Assuring that milk supply would not be affected, he said the government has not adopted an "egoistic view" on any issue.

"Our doors are always open for discussion. The government has not adopted an egoistic view on any issue. But the way the current protest is going on, is not right," the Chief Minister told reporters in Nagpur.

Fadnavis also did not favour the idea of transferring subsidy to the milk producers directly.

"Only 40 percent of the milk producers are registered with the body representing them. The remaining 60 percent are not registered. So, direct transfer (of subsidy amount) may lead to a kind of scam," he said.

The opposition Congress and NCP also raised the issue of milk suppliers' protest in the state Assembly and created ruckus over it.

Members of the two parties walked out of the House while accusing the government of being "anti-farmer" and "indifferent" to their plight.

Shetti had yesterday said that the procurement price of milk should be immediately hiked by Rs 5.

"Farmers sell milk to dairies at Rs 17 per litre. After processing it, the dairies package it in pouches and sell it at a minimum rate of Rs 42 per litre. The difference in earnings has not been passed on to the farmers," he said.

Ajit Nawale of the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha, which works for farmers' rights, had said the agitation would intensify further if the state government failed to procure milk at higher prices or did not give special subsidy to milk farmers.



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