High drama was witnessed at Azad Maidan on Friday, as three farmers from Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's Madha constituency in Solapur threatened suicide by jumping off a tree, alleging government apathy towards their demand of drinking water for nine drought-hit areas in the region. Two fire brigade teams and policemen managed to bring them down after 45 minutes.
More than 70 farmers, including 42 women, came to the city on February 5 to demand drinking water for their drought-affected area. The farmers want the government to open the gates of the Ujjani dam on the Bhima River so that they could get water for drinking and agricultural purposes. "We are surviving in the city on one vada pav a day. We have decided to die fighting," said Neelabai Londe, a farmer from the group.
The farmers have claimed that they get one tanker in a week to meet the needs of 8,000 people. They have alleged that the water from the dam is being diverted to the nearby sugar, wine and other major factories owned by influential people. On February 20, they met chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who then ordered an inquiry into the allegations and promised to solve their issues.
"When we met the CM, he agreed to give us water from the dam, provided we don't use it for agricultural purposes. Six-seven people have committed suicide in Solapur over the issue in February. Isn't it the government's responsibility to provide water for agriculture?" said Prabhakar Deshmukh, president, Solapur District Janhit Shetkari Sanghatna.
With no action even 15 days after their meeting with Chavan, three of them decided to attempt suicide on Friday.
Some of them had attempted suicide outside the Mantralaya building on Thursday, too, but were arrested by the police. Expressing his disappointment with Sharad Pawar and home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Deshmukh said, "They were elected from our constituencies. But, now, they are ignoring us, even as farmers are dying of thirst and are being forced to sell their cows."
If their demand is not met within 2-3 days, they plan to protest outside the CM's house with 5,000 villagers and students.