Maharashtra sugarcane price protest turns violent, 2 killed

Express news service Posted: Nov 13, 2012 at 0100 hrs
Pune Two farmers were killed Monday after a campaign demanding higher sugarcane prices turned violent at several places in western Maharashtra. The deaths intensified the agitation that had started in the morning after leaders of the farmers’ group, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS), were detained by the police.

One protester was killed in police firing in Sangli; another farmer died near Indapur in Pune district when the tyre of a truck he was trying to deflate exploded, injuring him fatally. Violence spread to other districts following the deaths.

The SSS has been demanding a first installment of Rs 3,000 per tonne for the sugarcane crop in the state. Raju Shetty, SSS president and Hatkanangle MP, has been sitting in protest since November 7 on the premises of Karmyogi Co-operative Sugar Factory in Indapur, which is controlled by co-operatives minister Harshavardhan Patil.

On Saturday, Shetty had announced that the campaign would intensify after chairmen and MDs of 26 sugar factories in Kolhapur, Satara and Sangli declared Rs 2,300 as the first installment. A former associate of farmers leader Sharad Joshi, Shetty launched the sanghatana after Joshi joined hands with the BJP. He has been leading farmers’ campaigns over sugarcane pricing and entered parliament in 2009 after defeating a two-time NCP MP by 95,000 votes.

On Monday morning, police detained Shetty and SSS state president Sadabhau Khot along with nearly 200 supporters in Indapur as a “preventive measure” to avoid any disruption of Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s rally scheduled to be held in Walchandnagar town near Indapur. However, several protesters gave police the slip and blocked roads in and around Indapur.

“One of the protesters, Kundalik Kokate of Narutwadi, was trying to deflate the tyre of a loaded truck when it burst, severely injuring him. He succumbed to his injuries on the way to hospital. Protesters burnt down two state transport buses and damaged seven more. Indapur police inspector Ashok Pawar and two constables sustained injuries in the stone-pelting,” said additional SP Ravindrasinh Pardeshi.

Stones were also hurled at police personnel who visited Narutwadi after the incident, injuring a sub-inspector and several constables.

“At Wasgade village in Palus taluka of Sangli, protesters had started burning government and private vehicles and resorted to stone-pelting. Four government cars, including that of a tehsildar, were completely burnt down. Seven policemen were injured. We tried to control the mob with a lathi-charge but failed, after which we had to open fire. Two rounds were fired, in which Chandrakant Nalavade died,” said Sangli deputy superintendent of police Laxmikant Patil.

As news of the deaths spread, protesters turned violent in other districts and disrupted traffic on the highways. In Nandre in Sangli district, the protesters torched the regional offices of Varna, Tasgaon and Vasantdada sugar factories and threw away sugar stored in the godowns. Near Islampur, protesters blocked the Mumbai-Bangalore national highway for several hours and damaged two state transport buses and a couple of police motorbikes. The disturbances also blocked traffic on the Pune-Hyderabad, Mumbai-Bangalore, Kolhapur-Sangli roads for several hours. Depot managers at Kolhapur, Satara, Solapur and Pune halted bus operations on the affected routes fearing more damage.

Shun violent means: CM

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s rally was held amid heavy police deployment in Walchandnagar. “The problem will not be solved by violent means. We urge farmers and union leaders to give up violent means. We are ready to solve the issue through negotiations,” Chavan said at the rally.