2019 Lok Sabha elections: Yavatmal hopes its ground reality will change this time
In the past five years, life hasn’t changed much for farmers from Yavatmal district, which is now infamous for farmer suicides and water scarcity. The district, which goes to polls on April 11, is a part of the Yavatmal-Washim Lok Sabha constituency where Sena’s two-term sitting MP Bhavana Gawali is contesting against Congress’s Manikrao Thakre. A rebel from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), PB Aade, is an independent candidate, and Vaishali Yede, a widow of a farmer who committed suicide, too, are in the fray.
A case in point could be Venu Yerke, 58, who lost her husband on March 16 this year. Dadarao Yerke, 62, hanged himself from a tree after losing all hopes of repaying a loan he took from a private firm to buy a tractor and a two-wheeler. It was a short-term loan of ₹7 lakh at 18% interest rate and he was supposed to repay ₹70,000 every six months for five years. But after paying two installments, Yerke couldn’t pay the third owing to crop failure due to drought.
Yerke lost all hope as the five-acre plot he had cultivated with cotton could not yield anything. He also had a farm loan of ₹1 lakh. “He started getting calls from the recovery agents several times a day. After a few months, he decided to end his life,” said Venu, sitting in a small verandah outside her kachcha house in Bothbodan village, around 13km from Yavatmal city.
Venu has four children — two son and two daughters. The elder son, Gyaneshwar Yerke, 30, lives with her, while Rajendra, 26, the younger one, stays at Ghatanji Tehsil, in search of work. They are unable to use the tractor bought by their father, as recovery agents have threatened to take it away.
Yerke’s family got a compensation of ₹5,000 from the state for crop damage. “They are providing ₹3,400 a hectare as crop damage for two hectares. Of the total compensation, some amount was deducted by the bank for maintaining zero balance,” she said.
Her family wasn’t eligible for Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojana, the ₹34,000-crore loan waiver scheme of the state, as they had taken a farm loan of upto ₹1 lakh after June 30, 2016, Venu said. The loan waiver scheme is applicable only in the cases where farm loan was borrowed before June 30, 2016.
Anup Chavan, a former sarpanch, said, “Around 29 farmers from the village have committed suicide till 2001 and the number is rising. The village has no water or irrigation facilities. There was very less rain in Bodhbodan this year. The village gets only drinking water from Zilla Parishad, but not regularly. The village has just one hand pump, which is not enough for 300 families.”
The situation is no different for the family of Mohan Pawar, who committed suicide on August 28 by hanging from a tree at Morgawan village, a few km from Bodhbodan, which saw the highest number of suicides in the district. Mohan had taken a farm loan of ₹1.5 lakh, but couldn’t repay it. “He was saved by villagers, but they didn’t take him to a hospital. He died a few hours later,” said Gajanan Pawar, 32, his son, who was then working as a construction labourer at Virar. “I was staying with my family (wife, three daughters and a son) at Virar and was earning ₹600 a day. One day, my father called to ask why I was not sending money. I told him I didn’t earn enough and my daughter is unwell,” Gajanan said. He reached Bodhbodan 24 hours after he learned about his father’s death and has been staying there since then. The family now plans to return to Virar after selling the five-acre farm plot.
According to the district administration, 386 farmers committed suicide in Yavatmal in 2015. The suicide rate dropped in 2016 and 2017, with 272 and 242 cases, respectively, but rose to 255 in 2018. This year, until March 29, the district registered 63 cases of suicides by farmers. Of them, only one case was found eligible for a compensation of ₹1 lakh from the state. Inspection by the district collectorate is pending in 50 cases and 12 cases were declared as ineligible. Between 2015 and 2018, of the 1,155 cases, only 500 were found eligible for compensation, shows the data.
Since 2001, 4,273 farmers committed suicide in Yavatmal district, highest in Amravati region. It is followed by Amravati district, with 3,607 farmer suicides till December 2018, according to the data provided by the Amravati divisional commissioner.
From 2001 till December 2018, farmer suicides in other districts of the region stood at 2,740 in Buldhana, 2,252 in Akola, 1,654 in Wardha and 1,523 in Washim. “The family of the deceased is declared eligible for compensation if they fulfil any one of the three criteria set by the state – outstanding crop loan of the last fiscal year, recovery notice issued by the bank concerned and crop failure,” said Lalit Warade, resident district collector, Yavatmal.
The district has only 20% irrigated land and the rest 80% is dry. The major crop here is cotton followed by soyabean and tur. “Crop failure and no prices to farm produce are the major reasons for farmer suicides. Many times, farmers get only half the input cost for their produce. This makes survival tough. Only technological intervention can change the scenario,” said Vijay Niwal, a farm activist, who used to work with the late farmers’ leader Sharad Joshi.
Drought and water scarcity worsen the situation. According to government data, over 2.81 lakh farmers from 1,203 villages of the district were found hit by drought under the National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) norms this year. The government has so far distributed a compensation of ₹203 crore to 2.44 lakh farmers. The state declared relief for villages that were ineligible for NDRF help. Till date, it has declared 151 tehsils, 318 revenue circles and 4518 villages drought-hit. “The district got 22% less than the average rain this year. We have around 29.68% water stored in reservoirs, but it is not sufficient to cover summer. For rural areas, only one water tanker has been deployed, but the number will increase in the days to come,” said Ajay Gulhane, Yavatmal district collector.
The state adopted Baliraja Chetana Abhiyan, a pilot project to reduce farmer suicides in the district, in 2015. “It has 11 schemes to provide help for mass marriage, cancer treatment, competitive exams, first year of MBBS studies, accidental deaths, among others. Till date, 85,187 farmers have taken benefit of the schemes,” said the collector.
However, the state reduces the provision for the project with each passing year. In the first year, the state allotted funds of ₹22.03 crore, while in 2018-19, the state allotted ₹7.5 crore.
EDUCATION GAVE HER A NEW LEASE OF LIFE
Shubhangi was 23, with a 13-month old son, when her husband Sanjay Jirapure, 27, committed suicide in 2006. Sanjay was a farmer from Kheda village of Karanja tehsil in Washim district. He had 9.5 acres of land, but did not get any yield that year. He had a farm loan of up to ₹1 lakh, of which some amount was borrowed from a bank and some from private money lenders. Unable to deal with crop failure for the second year in a row, Sanjay consumed poison in November.
After the initial shock and pain, Shubhangi decided to take control of her life and pursue education. She had completed HSC before getting married in 2002 and decided to do Diploma in Education (DEd). “I left my in-laws’ house and came back to my parents’ home in Jawala village in Yavatmal district. I got admission at Devrao Patil Adhyapak Vidyalaya, Loni in Yavatmal district, under reserved category and as a widow (sub-category) based on my HSC results (65%),” she said.
Shubhangi also got a scholarship of ₹12,000 a year for both the years of the two-year diploma. She then completed her six-month internship at Zilla Parishad Primary Marathi School in Jawala and started giving tuitions to students. “I was not sure whether I will be able to do all these things. My confidence was low. I had a son to look after. But with each passing day, I got confident,” she said.
In 2010, she got a job at Shri Gurudev Vidyamandir, Jawala. In the first year, her salary was ₹3,000 and from the second year, she started earning ₹6,000 a month. She was promoted as a permanent teacher after completing three years and her first salary was ₹23,000 a month.
“It has been nine years now and I am not only working as a teacher but have also taken responsibility of my home,” she said. Her son Om, 13, who studies at an English medium school in Arni, said, “I want to become a software engineer.”
Shubhangi bought a flat admeasuring 650-sqm at Paropte Layout in Arni worth ₹19 lakh through a home loan. She completed her graduation in arts stream in 2013 and post-graduation last year. “Whatever I am today is because of education,” she said.