The Khairlangi Dalit massacre overshadowed the sensitive spate of farmers' suicide in Vidarbha region on the opening day of the state legislature on Monday as four more farmers ended their lives in the last 24 hours.
In both the Houses, the Opposition and the coalition partner of the state government, at RPI's insistence to discuss the Khairlangi issue, sidelined the core issue of the state - farmers’ suicide.
With four more suicides, the death toll in the region has reached 1166 since June 2005. As many as 14 farmers have committed suicide in December alone while the figure was 107 in November.
Curiously, when Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was insisting during a press conference on Sunday evening that farmers' suicides were declining day by day after the announcement of two economic packages in the region, four farmers have taken the extreme step.
He said only 500 of the 1,195 farmers, who ended their lives in the region between January and October 2006, had done so because of indebtedness in the six districts of the region where the packages were being implemented. The remaining had committed suicides because of other reasons.
The government's claim was so contradictory that its own record said that over 4.5 lakh farmers out of 17 lakh in six affected districts were facing financial hardship due to debts and crop failure.
Of the four farmers who committed suicide in last 24 hours, two were from Wardha while one each were from Yavatmal and Amravati.
The victims were Vasant Deorao Thakre of Selsura, Prashant Baburao Dahake of Ashti (both in Wardha district), Vijay Solanki of Kalamb (Yavatmal) and Balu Wartukar of Karla in Amravati district.
Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti, who has been documenting the farmer's deaths, claimed that as many as 559 farmers have taken their lives since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited the region in June-July and announced an economic package.
Interestingly, the state government website giving a daily update on farmers' suicide under a court order shows a higher figure than the one given out by Tiwari.
It was last week that opposition leader Pandurang Fundkar had demanded a white paper on the implementation of farmers' packages, announced by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the state government to bail out the crisis-ridden farmers in the region.
While demanding a white paper, he sought the details of the package fund, the amount used for the benefits of distressed farmers and the present status of implementation of them.
Pointing out the slow pace of implementation of the packages, he had alleged that the farmers of the region were not getting any dividends from both the relief packages and that's why they were still committing suicides.
The BJP leader also demanded at least a support price of Rs 2,700 per quintal for raw cotton under the state-sponsored cotton monopoly procurement scheme. Fundkar, who had served the state cotton cooperative marketing federation as its chairman, predicted that the situation of cotton growers in the region would be more aggrieved in coming days if they not get the remunerative price of their produces.
Earlier, Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had turned down the proposal to hike the rate of raw cotton, citing the present financial crunch faced by the state government.
Moreover, the state cotton cooperative marketing federation, which procures cotton from farmers, has been incurring huge losses.
He said that state government had appointed a cabinet sub-committee to examine the matter and any decision in this regard would only be made only after getting the report of the committee.