Even as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley described his budget as rural centric, it came as no relief to distressed farmers in rural parts of drought-hit Marathwada region which till, Monday evening, reported as many as 168 deaths since January, this year. Last year, eight districts comprising Marathwada region had reported as many as 1,130 suicides – described as the highest in last 10 years.
In January, after The Indian Express had reported about suicides by 89 farmers, the Bombay High Court had sought details of the deaths from the state government while expressing its shock at the unabated suicides in Marathwada region.
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While in January 89 farmers had died in February, government officials 79 farmers embraced death due to rising debts and crop failure. Of the 168 deaths since January, Beed and Nanded reported the highest suicide figure of 26, followed by Jalna where 24 farmers ended their lives in the past two months.
Villagers in Jalna, which like other seven districts in Marathwada, seemed upset that the Finance Minister made no mention of unabated suicidies by distressed farmers in Marathwada.
Some of the farmers, spoke to, said they were expecting that the Union budget would make some announcement regarding loan waiver of farmers, but nothing of that sort was heard. “Did he say anything about our farmers loans ? Did he say anything about our mounting debts? If he had so, I have not heard neither have scores of farmers in our village,” said Shivaji Gajar (40), marginal cotton farmer in Gundewadi village of Jalna district.
Gajar, who has debts to the tune of Rs two lakh, said,”I am not the lone farmers who is burdened with debts. Like me, there are at least 400 farmers in our village of 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,” he said.
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 the constant saga of suicides.
Another farmer Sopanrao Budhwant from Ranmala village, which is 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 by helping them with financial assistance for buying seeds and other paraphrenalia for carrying out farming. It is because farmers do not have money, they are forced to borrow from banks and money-lenders at hefty interest rate which goes on piling after they fail to repay,” he said. A view echoed by several farmers.
Jalna relies on water from Jayakwadi dam located at Paithan in Aurangabad district, about 70 km away. The dam, which supplies itself has limited stock. Budhwant said in Jalna, cotton farming is major crop which has withered away on acres and acres of land due to current water crisis. “When there is no water for drinking purpose, how can we expect water for agriculture purpose ?,” asked Gajar.