Farmers' leader Sharad Joshi passes away

Economist, lawmaker and farmers' leader Sharad Joshi, who founded the Shetkari Sanghatana during the 1980s, passed away at his residence in Pune on Saturday. He was 81.

Sharad Joshi was a crusader for the cause of poor farmers and their economic upliftment. Joshi left his job as an economist in the UN to work among farmers of the country in an attempt to use his academic prowess to teach masses to make profit from the soil.

Joshi, who had been ailing for some days, was discharged from a city hospital earlier this month, his family sources said.

Joshi, who hailed from Satara district in Western Maharashtra, worked with the Indian Postal Services for nearly a decade and served with the United Nations for as nearly as long. Consistently brilliant in academics, he also briefly lectured in Economics and Statistics at the University of Pune in 1957.

He founded the pan-Maharashtra farmer's organisation in 1979 under the banner of 'Shetkari Sanghatana' with the catchy slogan 'Freedom of access to markets and to Technology'.

The organisation served as a template for future famers' outfits in challenging the ruling classes and bargaining higher remunerative prices for farmers.

Joshi's movement soon became a clarion call, taking up the cause of thousands of onion, cotton and sugarcane farmers across Maharashtra. He was among the first to base his agitation for higher prices by linking production cost to the price of agricultural produce.

Joshi also had a term in the Rajya Sabha as an elected member from 2004-10, when he served on as many 16 parliamentary committees.

"Am saddened by the demise of an advocate, an activist and a leader of farmers whose struggle for better marketing facilities and new farm technologies will be remembered," tweeted Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.

Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav paid tribute to Joshi calling him ''a visionary, passionate advocate of farmers, inspiring leader.''

Joshi, as member of the Rajya Sabha between 2004 and 2010, had stirred up a mild storm when he became the lone member of the Upper House to vote against the woman's reservation bill in March 2010.

His reasoned it saying it was much preferable to make women strong electorally first through the entire Panchayat Raj system before partial reservations were introduced at the central and state levels.

Joshi had claimed that his organisations, the Shetkari Sanghatana and the Shetkari Mahila Aghadi, were the first in the country to propose 100 per cent women panels in the Panchayat Raj elections in Maharashtra as early as 1986.