Another farmer takes life ahead of committees visit
Another cotton farmer ended his life on Thursday by swallowing pesticide ahead of the visit of a 31-member Parliamentary Committee, headed by the veteran CPM leader Basudeb Acharya in the suicide-prone districts of Yavatmal and Wardha on March 2 to ascertain the root causes of farmers suicides in the cotton belt of the region and why it continues to haunt the region despite several bailout packages.
The victim, Sunil Ganesh Vasake (37) of Chachora village in Yavatmal district took the drastic step when he could not repay loans amounting to Rs 1.50 lakh, borrowed from the district central cooperative bank and the Central Bank, following crop failure and receiving a profitable price for raw cotton this year.
According to sources, the Parliamentary committee will visit Bhamraja and Maregaon in Yavatmal district which are considered one of the worst-hit areas in the region. They will also interact with farmers of Wardha.
The parliamentary team would hold a public hearing at Bhamraja where farmers were convinced by the multi-national Mahyco-Monsanto to cultivate Bt cotton seeds for more yield. However, as many as 14 farmers of the village ended their lives because of crop failures and debts.
"If the Bt cotton or genetically modified crop was so effective, this should not have been the case," said Kishore Tiwari, president of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti, a farmers’ pressure group.
After holding a public hearing and interacting with farmers, the committee will hold a review meeting at Nagpur with senior government officials and representatives of farmers’ organisations. In the meeting, the committee will take stock of implementation of various packages and farmers suicides in all the districts of Vidarbha.
The committee is studying 15 different issues pertaining to ministries of Agriculture and Food Processing Industries. One of the major issues under study is the role of the ministry of agriculture in ensuring farmers’ access to agricultural credit. Another important issue is to review the National Food Security Mission.
The region has been witnessing spate of suicides since 1997. The state as well as the central government came out with several relief packages to bail-out the distressed farmers. Of them, the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh announced a relief package of Rs 3750-crore during his 2006 visit in the region. However, these packages failed to stem the suicides. As many as 918 farmers ended their lives last year while over 60 farmers killed themselves since January this year.
There was a time when this part of Central India was well-known for its rich black cotton soil. Gradually the picture has changed and now one may perceive only poverty, parched land and moreover, widows.
Poor rainfall, expensive healthcare, and rise in agro-input costs to the lure of latest consumer durables etc have led to the financial misery of the farmers. Moreover, the farmers go not get a remunerative price for their produce because of the prevailing prices and demand at the international level. The situation is so severe that at least two farmers commit suicide in the region every day.
"Our cost of living increased drastically while income reduced during the period," said Bapuraoji Gurnule (81) of Saikheda in Yavatmal district, a progressive farmer and a recipient of Maharashtra government’s prestigious "Krushibhushan award" in 1987. His son, Chandrakant (33) doused himself with kerosene and set afire on April 1, 2006, because of the agrarian crisis.
Ten-acre land holder, Gurnule blamed the wrong policies of the government that led to the present crisis. "An average two farmers commit suicide every day in Vidarbha because of agrarian crisis," he claimed.
"I hardly find a prosperous farmer in my area after the liberalisation policy. How can we compete in the international market when farming technology was not enhanced and irrigation potential was not upgraded?” Gurnule asked.
The farmer suicides came into light in the region when a 42-year old Ramdas Ambarwar of Telang-Takli village in Yavatmal ended his life by swallowing pesticide on January 21, 1997. Scanty rains, ever increasing burden of debts and poverty compelled Ramdas to commit suicide and that was the first reported case of farmer suicide in the State.