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50,000 Farmers march overnight for 5 hours to avoid hassling Mumbai Students, rally today

At least 50,000 farmers who had arrived in Mumbai yesterday reached the Azad Maidan before the crack of dawn. They walked through the night, for five hours, so that students who will be writing their Board exams today aren't inconvenienced.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had appealed to farmers not to hold up the traffic and cause problems for Class 10 students. "I have only made an appeal that they should not cause any problem to the traffic since it's an exam day and more than one lakh students will get affected," Fadnavis said.

The farmers, who had camped at the KJ Somaiya Ground in Sion, began moving towards the Azad Maidan, about 15 km away, little after midnight. They will spend the next few hours at the Maidan as they negotiate with the government before gheraoing the Vidhan Sabha, two kms from here, as was planned before the farmers began their gruelling long march on Tuesday. A complete loan waiver and transfer of land to tribal farmers are among their key demands.

Senior Minister Girish Mahajan, who also marched around 3.30 am, told NDTV that the Maharashtra government has been in touch with the farmers ever since their march began. The chief minister has been monitoring the situation, he said.

In November last year, the Devendra Fadnavis government had announced loan waiver for farmers after the state witnessed a 10-day long protest by farmers. Without mentioning figures or who would be eligible, he had promised that it would be the "biggest loan waiver in Maharashtra's history". Last month, state Governor Vidyasagar Rao told the state assembly that said the government has transferred more than Rs. 12,000 crore into bank accounts of more than 31 lakh farmers.

But the farmers demand the implementation of the Swaminathan Committee report, which mandates that farmers be paid one-and-a-half times the cost of production and the Minimum Support Price be fixed for their produce.

It is being reported that the protesters will not be allowed to proceed beyond Azad Maidan and a delegation will be allowed to come to the Vidhan Bhavan to meet the Chief Minister. The Left-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha or AIKS, which is spearheading the protest, says they are willing to consider what the government offers.

Sunday's protests did not affect traffic in Mumbai, which last year was witness to the huge, silent demonstrations by Maratha groups.