IN BARELY a week, as many as 27 farmers have committed suicide in Maharashtra’s drought-hit Marathwada region, taking the suicide toll in the area beyond 1000 this year.
Officials pegged the total number of suicides in Marathwada at 1,024 on Tuesday evening, up by 27 since December 1, when the toll for the year stood at 997 suicides.
Out of the eight districts in Marathwada, Beed — the district from which the state’s Women and Child Welfare Minister Pankaja Munde hails — has seen the highest number of farmer suicides — 286. While Nanded stood second in the list with 177 deaths, Osmanabad was placed third with 154 deaths. Ironically, the Maharashtra government had recently picked Osmanabad for its “zero suicide” plan.
Government officials, however, claimed that the number of suicides due to crop loss and debt burden only stood at 630, and the other suicides were due to reasons like illness or family disputes. They, however, did not deny the fact that all these deaths were cases of suicide, adding that “616 eligible families” had already been paid Rs 1 lakh compensation.
Beed District Collector Navalkishore Ram admitted that the rising suicides showed collective failure of his team.
“Yes, the number of suicides reflects the fact that our efforts have failed to yield results. But let me tell you, we are not tired, we have not given up, we are putting in all our efforts to reduce the suicide rate. We are confident that suicide rate will drastically drop in the near future,” he said.
While Pankaja Munde refused to blame the local administration, she said she was “concerned and worried” about the situation in her home district. “Only in two talukas, the condition is somewhat better,” she said, adding that nine talukas face severe shortage of water.
On the role of money-lenders and banks, the district collector said, “It would be wrong to blame banks for the plight of farmers. All this is happening because of crop failure.”
The district administration said they had started a door-to-door survey to identify depressed farmers. Officials, however, admitted that there was a shortage of trained psychologists.
“We have 11 talukas, and for each taluka we need three psychologists. So we need 32 more psychologists, for which efforts are under way,” said Ram. Currently, there is only one full-time psychologist catering to a flood of farmers in distress.
Divisional Commissioner Umakant Dhangat, who looks after all eight districts of Marathwada, said the administration was doing everything possible to bring down the suicide rate. “Since this is happening for long, it will take time. But we are sure it will not be long before suicides stop completely,” he said, adding that he was visiting villages to understand farmers’ problems.