Rattled by continuing suicides by cotton farmers in Maharashtra's Vidarbha region, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his daylong visit to Mumbai on August 31 will hold a review meeting and work out comprehensive strategies to combat the problem.
Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh will brief the prime minister on the prevailing situation in Vidarbha, where over 500 farmers have committed suicide this year alone. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, state Home Minister RR Patil and Chief Secretary Johnny Joseph will also be present at the meeting, officials in the state secretariat said.
Manmohan Singh had visited the distressed districts of Vidarbha July 2006 and announced a Rs 37.5 billion package for six districts - Amaravati, Akola, Washim, Buldhana, Yavatmal and Wardha.
Though the Maharashtra government claims the number of suicides has come down, the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), a farmers' pressure group, insists the problem has only escalated.
VJAS President Kishore Tiwari, in a letter to the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) on August 25, had demanded that the support price to cotton be enhanced to Rs 2,700 per quintal.
"The farmers need support of this price as well as guaranteed purchase scheme, otherwise market players will exploit them," he said in the letter, copies of which were also sent to President Pratibha Patil, Pawar and Deshmukh.
The group has demanded a blanket ban on BT cotton seeds in dry land farming areas. Tiwari suggested that children of farmers in extreme distress be offered free education facilities and that special schemes promoting food crop farming and natural farming be introduced in the region.
He also called for the simplification of the food processing policy for the benefit of the illiterate farmers. The subsidy on fertilisers needed to be passed on to the farmers and users instead of fertiliser manufacturing companies, he pointed out.
Tiwari alleged that "bogus and duplicate" seeds were being sold to poor and illiterate farmers by big traders and manufacturers.
"This massive corruption in sale of duplicate and bogus seeds has resulted in the farmer being cheated", leading to increase in debt due to improper farming practices, Tiwari complained in his letter.
"Most of the recent victims took the drastic step because local banks refused to give them fresh loans being defaulters. Moreover, some of the farmers' crops were washed away in the current kharif season following incessant rains. And they have no money for fresh sowing. The accumulated distress of the region's farmers is now at its worst," he wrote.