A YEAR ago, the Maharashtra government selected Osmanabad for a “zero-suicide district” plan that aimed to check suicides by farmers.
Since then, the number of such suicides has in fact gone up by over a fourth — from 136 between August 2014 and August 2015, to 172 between August 2015 and August 2016, according to officials at the Aurangabad divisional commissionerate that keeps tracks of suicides in the eight districts of Marathwada region.
Across Marathwada, 683 farmers have committed suicide from January 1 to August 15 this year. This is higher by a fifth than the number of suicides in the corresponding period last year, when 574 farmers had committed suicide.
Osmanabad district collector Prashant Narnaware conceded that the district administration has not been able to check suicides as planned.
“But I will not say that the efforts have failed completely. The figure of suicides would have been higher but our concerted efforts have helped in saving several lives,” said Narnaware, who was recently honoured by the government as an outstanding collector. And officials in the Chief Minister’s Office said “plans are in place and will take time to show results”.
These plans include loans, aids and counselling against suicide.
The district administration set up committees in all 730 villages, each headed by the sarpanch who was given Rs 1 lakh and who was supposed to identify distressed farmers for immediate small loans. “We will have to find out whether these committees did the job properly,” Narnaware said.
Under the scheme, Rs 1.5 crore each was given to the agriculture and animal husbandry departments. “The agriculture department was supposed to identify farmer groups that were doing well, connect them to the distressed farmers, and set up a revolving fund for farmers in the group. The animal husbandry department was tasked with encouraging poultry farming,” Narnaware said.
Officials said they distributed crop insurance of nearly Rs 500 crore. From this year, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana has been launched. From August 2015, the government started providing wheat at Rs 2 a kg and rice at Rs 3 a kg to farmer families.
“Suicides have become a chronic problem,” Narnaware admitted. “For instance, the harassment of farmers by moneylenders continues to be the biggest challenge. Though only 90 moneylenders are registered, the figure is much higher. We get to know about unauthorised moneylenders only when a dispute comes up.”
Ram Jeevan Bondhar, president of the Marathwada unit of the farmers’ organisation Shetkari Sanghatna, said suicides continue because of the failure of the government to take its schemes to the doorstep of farmers. “It has come to light that 300 farmers in Kalamb taluka of Osmanabad have not received crop insurance. It reflects government apathy,” Bondhar said.
The Maharashtra Congress said the failure of the government shows it has no clue how to handle the crisis. “They make big announcements sitting in Mumbai or going to Delhi. But at the ground level, they are zero which is proved by what has happened in Osmanabad,” said Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant. “We can understand 20 o30 30 suicides taking place in a ‘zero suicide’ district. But the staggering figure of over 100 speaks of a complete failure.”
When The Indian Express approached the CMO, officials said they would update the CM on the figures. “The efforts taken will take time to show results,” one official said.