At least 13 cotton-growers committed suicide in the 48 hours leading up to the PM's visit to Maharashtra, reports Pradip Kumar Maitra.
The news wasn’t good on the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s day-long Maharashtra visit to review the economic package granted to Vidarbha’s farmers. At least 13 cotton-growers committed suicide in the 48 hours leading up to the visit even as aid cheques issued to two farmers in Washim district bounced.
This year, 764 debt-hit farmers have committed suicide, while last year’s suicide count stands at 1,442. The Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, which has been documenting the deaths since 2001, said the region averaged three suicides a day.
It was evident that the situation in Vidarbha, a cotton-growing region the size of Punjab, was worsening, the samiti pointed out, from the month-wise suicide toll. While 64 farmers died in July, the toll has touched 79 this month.
On July 1, 2006, Singh had announced the Rs 3,750-crore package to end the seemingly unending saga of suicides and debilitating debt. Since then, 1,261 farmers have taken their own lives. But these are just the official figures. The samiti alleged many more have died; office-bearer Kishore Tiwari said that at least 10,000 farmers have committed suicide since the Vilasrao Deshmukh government took charge.
The samiti alleged that the state, in a desperate attempt to bring down suicide figures, simply refused to acknowledge many deaths as debt-related, thus disallowing any compensation claims on those tragedies.
According to Tiwari, most of the recent suicides were a result of banks and cooperative societies refusing fresh loans.
State government figures also suggest that many farmers did not get loans. Lokesh Chandra, additional commissioner of Amravati and coordinator of the relief package, said only Rs 1,254 crore was disbursed this Kharif season compared to Rs 2,013 crore last year. Only 4.74 lakh of Vidarbha’s 18 lakh farmers in the ‘suicide belt’ got loans.
What’s worse, relief cheques issued to Washim farmers Manik Lasankute and Bhaurao Ingole — of Rs 15,000 and Rs 350 respectively — bounced.
D.G. Bakwad, superintendent of the Agriculture Department at Washim, said Lasankute would be issued a fresh cheque soon, while Ingole was paid on Wednesday.