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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

In Maharashtra, MVA-BJP political slugfest over help to flood-hit farmers

Agitated farmers have meanwhile blocked a minister’s vehicle and raised slogans demanding immediate financial assistance.

Written by Manoj Dattatrye More | Pune | October 21, 2020 2:12:46 pm
A bus moves through waterlogged Karad-Vita highway following heavy rain, in Karad (PTI)

The excess rain that ravaged crops on thousands of hectares in Marathwada and Western Maharashtra, has been followed by intense politicking between the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and the main opposition BJP, in which even the Assembly elections in faraway Bihar has made an appearance. Agitated farmers have meanwhile blocked a minister’s vehicle and raised slogans demanding immediate financial assistance.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar toured flood-hit Osmanabad district on Sunday (October 18), exactly a year after his famous election speech in pouring rain in Satara, which is believed to have turned around the fortunes of his party in the Assembly polls. Pawar told aggrieved farmers that the damage to standing crops was too massive for the state government alone to bear the burden of providing help.

He announced that he would lead a delegation of MPs from Maharashtra to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and seek help from the central government. The PM, Pawar said, has already said the floods have caused heavy damage, and that he is eager to help.

Children play near an overflowing Powai lake following heavy rains, in Mumbai (PTI)

A day later, Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray revealed that the Prime Minister had called him up on October 16 and told him not to worry about money. Thackeray said he was confident that the Centre would extend all possible help.

“What is wrong in seeking help from the Centre? The central government does not belong to a foreign country. It is our country’s government and therefore it has a duty to take care of state governments. With the Prime Minister himself calling up, I am confident he will extend help to us,” the Chief Minister said.

The BJP has accused the state government of trying to pass the buck to the Centre while not declaring what it intends to do for the flood-affected farmers. Former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said the government was talking about panchnamas and procedures, whereas his regime had moved fast in a similar previous crisis, disbursing assistance on the basis of pictures of damaged crops taken by officials on their mobile phones. “Instead of pointing to the Centre, he (Thackeray) should show the courage to help farmers,” Fadnavis said.

Former Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis visit flood-affected Chincholi village, in Daund taluka of Pune (PTI)

Uddhav said his government would wait for some more days before making an announcement on relief.

“The IMD has cautioned more rain in the next two-three days. We want to ensure that there is no loss of life… We will wait for some more days before making the announcement,” he said.

State BJP chief Chandrakant Patil criticised the government for rushing to the Centre without even preparing a memorandum or surveying the damage. “Is this how you seek help from the Centre,” he asked at a press conference.

Pravin Darekar, Opposition leader in the Legislative Council, said that when the Shiv Sena was sharing power with the BJP in the state, it (Sena) would to seek immediate help. “Why is he (Thackeray) hesitating to do so when he is in power,” Darekar asked.

Nashik: Maharashtra State Minister Chhagan Bhujbal during his visit to a village to inspect damaged crops, in Nashik district, Oct. 19, 2020. (PTI Photo)

On Monday, Thackeray taunted Fadnavis, asking him to go to Delhi instead of Bihar. (Fadnavis is overseeing the BJP campaign in the poll-bound state.) Fadnavis retorted that it was only after he declared his intention to tour flood-affected areas, that the MVA ministers had woken up — an allegation to which the Chief Minister responded: “I have been constantly in touch with officials and taking updates on the latest situation… I have come here to assure the farmers and will also be visiting the flood hit areas in the next two days.”

On Tuesday, Fadnavis said: “Sharad Pawar has said that the government can take a loan to help farmers. That can be done as the RBI has set a limit of Rs 1.20 lakh crore for the Maharashtra government. So far, the state has taken Rs 60,000 crore… The government can easily take more loan to extend immediately help, rather than expecting the Centre to make the move.”

Solapur: Search and rescue operation underway after a wall along the banks of Chandrabhaga river collapsed following heavy rains, at Pandharpur in Solapur district, Oct. 14, 2020. (PTI Photo)

Pawar, Fadnavis said, had been reduced to constantly defending the incompetence of the MVA government.

In the middle of the political slugfest, the farmers say they need immediate financial assistance to carry out the rabi sowing. Panchnamas will take months, they say — and if they don’t get immediate help, their lives would be ruined, just like the standing crops that were flattened. On Monday, agitated farmers blocked the cavalcade of State Minister Vijay Wadettiwar and raised slogans in Nanded.

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