In an apparent volte face, the Maharashtra government has withdrawn its allegations against the Prime Minister’s Office of delaying the release of additional funds for ex-gratia assistance to suicide-affected farmers’ families in the state.
The allegation caused a major embarrassment to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Congress, as the party was a senior partner in the coalition government in Maharashtra.
This central assistance authorised district collectors to sanction Rs 10,000 for a suicide-affected family for health and education related expenses. An amount of Rs 50 lakh each was placed for disposal with the six district collectors for this purpose in August 2006.
In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the state had said, "this amount has fully been disbursed to the needy families and the state government has been requesting the Prime Minister’s Office for additional funds. The State has even earmarked Rs 1.80 crore from the Chief Minister’s Fund, with a view to keep the scheme running otherwise the scheme had to be stopped for the delay in receiving grants from the PMO."
The affidavit had come in response to a PIL filed by advocate Sanjeev Bhatnagar seeking review of the current agriculture policy in view of suicides committed by thousands of farmers in various parts of the country.
Quoting data released by the Centre, Bhatnagar had pointed out that in the last five years an alarming number of 8927 farmers committed suicide in the said four states-Karnataka (5910) Andhra Pradesh (1835), Maharashtra (981) and Kerala (201). Since then further suicides have taken place, he said.
Following a Hindustan Times report dated March 1, 2007, a shocked PMO had initiated an inquiry to ascertain facts of the matter and sought a through report from the state government.
Now, Maharashtra’s Joint Secretary and OSD, Relief and Rehabilitation, Praveen Srivastava has filed an additional affidavit seeking to delete the allegations against the PMO.
Srivastava alleged that a particular sentence of the affidavit had been torn out and misinterpreted out of context by a section of press to interpret that the state government was putting the blame on the PMO for the delay in making available funds.
"I am constrained to file this additional affidavit so as to make the record clear and unambiguous and lead no manner of doubt as to the contentions of 2nd Respondent (Maharashtra) in this regard," Srivastava said in the affidavit.
Instead, Maharashtra requested the court to allow it to add two additional pages appreciating Singh’s visit to Vidarbha, announcement of package for farmers and his support to the scheme.
The court had on August 14, 2006 issued notices to Union Agriculture Ministry, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala seeking their response to the PIL.