EVEN AS the ruling party and the opposition are sparring over granting of loan waiver to drought-hit farmers in Maharashtra, as many as 112 distressed farmers, rattled by mounting debts and withering crop, ended their lives this month in Marathwada region. This brought the toll to 1,109 this year. Compared to last year’s suicide toll, this year’s figure is double that number. In fact, this year’s suicide toll, officials said, was the highest in the past 10 years.
Since January 1, this year, every week between 20-30 suicides have been reported in eight districts of Marathwada. In the second week of this month, as many as 35 suicides were registered which, officials said, were the highest for the year, flying in the face of the government’s promise to reduce the suicide rate.
Of the eight districts which have collectively recorded 1,109 suicides by December 27, Beed district tops with 299 suicides. Gopinath Munde’s daughter, Pankaja Munde, who represents one of the constituencies in Beed, harps on Israel style of farming. “Once we start implementing Israel style of farming, I am sure the woes of Marathwada farmers will be lessened to a great extent,” she said.
Nanded, from where Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan hails, ranks second with 187 suicides. Chavan attributes this to the failure of both state and central governments in implementing effective plans to stop farmers from ending their lives.
Osmanabad, where state government has started implementing zero suicide plan, stands third with 160 suicides. Aurangabad is at the fourth spot with139 suicides. “There, state and central government seem to be clueless in tackling the situation,” he said.
Of the 1,109 suicides, officials said, 698 families of farmers who committed suicides are eligible for government compensation. “Actually, Rs 1 lakh compensation has already been given to 698 families,” officials said. Moreover, they attributed these suicides to either illness or family problems, but did not deny that these actually were suicides.
The farmers have their own tales to tell. Indal Chavan (35), an impoverished farmer from Sarkhani village, Nanded would constantly murmur “Me karza bazaarI …Kasa karza fedo” (I am debt-ridden…how do I get rid of the debt ?). The mounting debt acquired bigger proportion after the crop on his field withered away due to lack of rains for the umpteenth time this year. Fed up of constant crop failure, unending wait for the elusive rain, hassled by people who lent him money and unable to take care of his family’s daily needs, Indal ended his life in the first week of this month by consuming poison at his residence.
Indal’s brother Rohidas Chavan (33) recalled, “I rarely saw my brother in a cheerful mood except for the birthdays of either his children or my children. Otherwise, everyday he spoke about finding ways to clear the debts. He had bank loan of Rs 82,000 but had borrowed heavily from friends, relatives and some other persons.
Indal Chavan had a 5-acre farm holding where he invested all his money, but the repeated no-returns saga played heavily on his mind, year after year. “He invested heavily in cotton, jowar, tur. All his efforts however went in vain as the crop simply withered away as it hardly rained in Kinwat taluka,” said Rohidas.
In the drought-hit Marathwada region, like Chavan, 112 other distressed farmers chose to end their lives in less than a month. Village deputy sarpanch Vijay Jadhav said, “Indal had told me about his worries. I did my best to counsel him and extend help, but since Diwali he looked completely depressed due to constant failure as he was investing heavily in his farm, but was getting nothing in return.”
Narsimhan Karlewad (42) of Shivni village in Kinwat taluka, Nanded last week also committed suicide by consuming poison, leaving his disabled daughter, two sons and wife to fend for themselves. Village sarpanch Digambar Bondarwad, who is a close relative, said,”For the past few years, Karlewad was sowing cotton and soyabean but there was no yield as the taluka hardly gets any rain.”
Bhanudas Pawar (60), a farmer from Tagadgaon village of Shirur Kasar taluka, Beed, set himself ablaze. After his son’s death four months back, he seemed to live perpetually in tension. Uddhav Pawar, Bhanudas’s younger son said, “I was working on daily wage in Pune while my father was taking care of the entire family which included my brother’s two daughters, his wife and my mother. We have two-acre farm which is fit for nothing. We had sowed bajra on red soil which consumes large quantity of water. As Beed district had long dry spell, our farm ran barren.”
Nanded has seen second highest suicides in Marathwada region. “Nanded has 16 talukas and over 1500 villages. In all villages and talukas, the no-rain situation has become worse in last two years leading to major crop failure,” said resident deputy collector Pradeed Kulkarni.
Nanded cultivates soyabean, but several farmers prefer cotton crop as its returns are high. “However, they don’t realise the input cost of cotton crop is very high. If the crop fails, its burdens them hugely,” said Kulkarni.
Officials said crop on the entire 7.60 hectare land has been affected in the district which has seen less than 50 per cent rainfall. Nanded has 89 smaller dams and two bigger ones, but the water level is barely enough to even meet the drinking requirement of the district.
Beed district collector Navalkishore Ram said, “To overcome the problem, they have launched campaigns to motivate farmers to go for crop that needs minimum water. Besides, farmers are being persuaded to take up allied farming activity like cattle-rearing, and poultry farming.”
Divisional Commissioner Umakant Dhangat said, “The government is providing everything to the farmers from food grains, seeds, financial assistance, expert advice, insurance cover to counselling. Yet, the suicide rate has failed to come down. We have selected Osmanabad for the zero suicide plan. We hope we will succeed here so that the plan could be replicated in other districts.”