The Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti, a farmers’ pressure group, led by farm widows Kalawati Bandurkar and Aparna Malikar on Thursday blocked the Varanasi-Kanyakumari national highway at Pandharkawda in Yavatmal district in support of better price for raw cotton. Kalawati made it to the headlines after Rahul Gandhi’s visit to her humble home while Aparna Malikar featured on KBC recently.
The vehicular traffic on the highway was paralysed for over two hours. Addressing a farmers’ rally there, Kishore Tiwari, the convenor of the samiti that is at the forefront to demand for a better deal for cotton growers, said that a delegation of farm widows would be reaching New Delhi soon and would camp there for two days and try to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi in order to communicate to her the need for providing urgent relief to cotton growers. Hundreds of widows gathered at a protest rally organized by the Samiti today.
Tiwari said, “‘Maharashtra chief minister on Wednesday said the election code of conduct stopped him from announcing a bailout package for cotton farmers. But farmers and victims of the suicide crisis in the region are not convinced by his argument and see it as dithering to take a favourable decision. They see it as no more than a lame excuse," said Tiwari. Chavan had said that the government would do the needful but only next month when the legislature’s winter session would be held in Nagpur.
“Vidarbha farmers are in urgent need of help because of crop failure and the government should provide relief without delay. Now there is no question of raising MSP at this stage as small and needy farmers have already sold 50% of produce. So a cash subsidy of Rs 20,000 per hectare for cotton and Rs15, 000 for soya be paid to farmers to compensate for 40% loss of crop this year," he said. Kalawati and Malikar also addressed the gathering.
Former MPCC chief Ranjit Deshmukh on Thursday met Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi. He impressed upon her the need for urgent relief to cotton, soyabean and paddy growers of Vidarbha.
Deshmukh said, "I briefed her about the precarious situation of the farmers in the region who are facing bleak prospects of a poor crop because of adverse weather conditions, rising production costs and non-remunerative support prices fixed the for cotton and other crops. She heard me for 15 minutes and assured to look into the matter.”
The senior Congress leader said he found the reason of code of conduct proffered by the chief minister as ridiculous. "I urged Soniaji to intervene in the matter and help take an early decision to announce a relief package for farmers," said Deshmukh. He also warned her that the party would fare badly in the coming civic council elections if timely help was not extended to farmers in Vidarbha.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar made it clear that finance would not be a problem while taking a decision on giving relief to cotton, paddy and soyabean growers in the state and particularly in Vidarbha.
Pawar who was here on Friday for an official programme said the state government has almost decided to give per hectare financial aid to the cotton growers in distress. Similarly, the state government very well understood the fact that the minimum support price (MSP) of maximum upto Rs 3,300 per quintal given to the cotton growers is not enough and should be increased.
“But we are not in a position to declare the actual financial aid per hectare due to the election code of conduct, presently in force in view of the municipal council elections in the state,” he said. Centre will be moved for financial assistance, if need be,” he pointed out.
The deputy chief minister also appealed to the agitating leaders and farmers to call off their agitation, saying that the state government very well understood the plight of the farmers. But at this point of time, the state government is helpless in announcing any relief in view of the code of conduct. Once the election code of conduct is lifted, the state would take the decision immediately.