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Milk agitation to continue till demands met: Leader

(Eds: Updates with agitation impact)

Mumbai, Jul 19 Dairy farmers will continue to agitate for hike until the Maharashtra government agrees to hike milk-procurement prices, a leader spearheading the protest said today.

The farmers have been holding protests in parts of the state since Monday, seeking a hike of Rs 5 per litre in the procurement prices. The impact of the protest was felt particularly in Mumbai and Pune where milk supplies were partially affected.

Though the protest has not created an acute shortage of milk yet, the agitation has intensified with families of dairy farmers also pitching in.

"I am ready to withdraw the agitation if the milk-purchase rate is fixed around Rs 25 per litre," Raju Shetti, leader of political party Swabhimani Paksha, told reporters here.

Earlier in the day, Shetti said his discussion with state Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan last night failed to resolve the issue.

Shetti said if the state government mandates dairies to increase the purchase price of milk, he would have no issues. "But, till then, my agitation will continue," the Lok Sabha MP from Hatkanangale constituency said.

"A milk powder maker has enquired with me and is willing to purchase one lakh litres of milk daily at Rs 25 per litre. If he is ready to do the business then why the state is not keen on promoting such businessmen?" he asked.

The state''s proposal to provide a subsidy of Rs 2-3 per litre will benefit dairies and milk powder makers, but there is no guarantee if they would pass it on to farmers, he added.

Supporters of Shetti''s party and members of his farmers'' organisation, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, blocked the Kini toll booth on National Highway No. 4 near Kolhapur city today, prompting the police to divert some vehicular traffic to other routes.

Protests also took place in Kolhapur''s neighbouring Sangli district. The Sanghatana''s Nanded district leader, Prahlad Ingole, said their demands were for farmers who are at the bottom of the economic hierarchy.

The major milk-producing districts of Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara, Ahmednagar and Nashik supply bulk of the stock to Mumbai and Pune. Some units in Thane and Palghar also supply milk to the Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

A vendor from suburban Goregaon said they were getting less number of milk pouches compared to any other normal day, but it did not cause a shortage yet.

"If we can manage to get some tankers, the milk supply in the city would still be manageable," a distributor here said, adding that one tanker of milk could be stored for at least three days.

Yesterday, Shetti had vowed to stop trains carrying milk to the state from Gujarat. A Western Railway official earlier said milk tankers would be attached to the Ahmedabad-Mumbai Central passenger train to mitigate problems faced by consumers. PTI ND GK HMB

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