EVEN as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Monday described his Budget as rural-centric, reviving memories of the “Jai Kisan” era, it came as no relief to distressed farmers in rural parts of drought-hit Marathwada, which till Monday evening had reported 168 deaths this year.
Last year, eight districts comprising the Marathwada region had reported as many as 1,130 suicides — described as the highest in 10 years.
In January, after The Indian Express reported suicides by 89 farmers, the Bombay High Court had sought details of the deaths from the state government while expressing shock at the unabated suicides in the Marathwada region. Even as the government apparently got down to the task of collecting information on the suicides of 89 farmers in January, 79 farmers embraced death due to rising debts and crop failure in February.
Of the 168 deaths since January, Beed and Nanded reported the highest at 26, followed by Jalna where 24 farmers ended their lives in the past two months.
Villagers in Jalna, which like the other seven districts in Marathwada, seemed upset that the Finance Minister made no mention of unabated suicides by the distressed farmers in Marathwada. Some of the farmers this paper spoke to said they were expecting that the Union Budget would make some announcements regarding loan waiver for farmers, but nothing of that sort was heard.
“Did he say anything about farmers’ loans? Did he say anything about our mounting debts? Did he say about the frequent suicides by farmers in Marathwada? If he has, I have not heard him, and neither have scores of farmers in our village,” said Shivaji Gajar (40), a marginal cotton farmer in Gundewadi village of Jalna district.
Gajar, who has debts to the tune of Rs 2 lakh, said, “I am not the lone farmer burdened by debts. Like me, there are at least 400 farmers in our village Gundewadi who have taken loans from banks and money-lenders and are now not in a position to repay. Because of our inability to repay, interest goes on piling up and there is constant pestering by banks and money-lenders for repaying the loan.”
Gajar said if the Budget had announced waiver of loans, it would have been a great relief to farmers and would have helped in reducing suicides. Gajar said the FM announced that farmers’ income will double, which is difficult to understand. “When there is no income whatsoever, how can our income be doubled?”
Another farmer, Sopanrao Budhwant from Ranmala village about 70 km from Gundewadi, said the government’s crop insurance scheme was more of a reactive one. “The government could help farmers in a more pro-active way by helping them with financial assistance for buying seeds and other paraphernalia for farming. Because farmers do not have money, they are forced to borrow from banks and money-lenders at hefty interests which goes on piling up after they fail to repay,” he said.
Jalna relies on water from Jayakwadi dam at Paithan in Aurangabad. The dam has limited stock.