The farmer suicides, which have remained unstoppable for past few years in eight districts of Marathwada, have crossed the staggering 400-mark in just over four month period in 2016.
Compared to 2015, as many as 92 more farmers have embraced deaths in the first four and half months of 2016, highlighting the failure of the government schemes launched in August to curb the spate of suicides.
A special taskforce appointed by the Devendra Fadnavis government on Tuesday conceded that the agrarian crisis was too “substantial” and results of the government efforts to put brakes on suicides will take time to show up.
In 2015, the collective figure of suicides in all eight districts of Marathwada stood at 1,130 – three suicides every day and throughout the year. In past 16 months, 1,548 distressed farmers have been reported dead in the Marathwada region which is witnessing fourth successive years of drought with wells, rivers and dams having gone dry.
In 2015, Beed, from where Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde hails, had witnessed nearly 300 farmer suicides. In 2016, in just over four months, it is again on top with 75 suicides. In Aurangabad where Shiv Sena and MIM raise decibel levels on every other issue stands second with 64 suicides.
Nanded, from where MPCC president Ashok Chavan comes from, is at third spot with 62 suicides. Other districts where farmer suicides have become common includes Latur 55, Osmanabad 54, Jalna 43, Parbhani 39 and Hingoli 26, according to officials at the Aurangabad divisional commissionerate which monitors the farmer suicides.
In 2015, from January to April, as many as 278 had ended their lives. In the same period in 2016, 370 – 92 more than 2015. Till May 7, in 2016, 392 farmers were reported dead. In 2015, the figure of suicides stood at 300 in the same period.
“It is true that compared to last year, this year’s figure of farmer suicides is on the much higher side,” said Jitendra Papalkar, Aurangabad Deputy Commissioner (revenue).
Osmanabad which was picked by the state government’s “zero-suicide district” reflects what, official sources, say the failure of government’s so-called efforts to put brakes on the farmer suicide saga. It has reported 54 suicides since January.
Officials have been citing two main reasons for farmer suicides: crop failure and mounting debts.
Conceding that government efforts have not yielded results so far, Kishore Tiwari, who heads the state government-appointed Vasantrao Naik Shetkari Swavlamban Mission, said the agrarian crisis in Marathwada was so “substantial” that it will take time before the turn around happens.
“We have launched a number of schemes to halt the suicides of farmers in Marathwada and other parts of the state. Among the plans includes Food Security Act, critical illness, waiver of fees, counselling for farmers as also vigorous implementation of crop insurance. Since farmer suicides are growing, it is clear that our effort will take time to yield results,” he said.
Tiwari said the government has aggressively launched the crop cultivation campaign in Marathwada.
“Under this, we are urging farmers to go for food crop likes pulses, jowar, maize instead of water guzzling crops like sugarcane,” he said. “One acre of sugarcane crop guzzles water of 100 acre of cotton crop. This difference is stark. Therefore, in places like Latur, Beed and Osmanabad which have been hit hard by water shortage, it will be in their own interest if farmers shun sugarcane crop and instead prefer food crops,” he said.
The government, said Tiwari, is even providing seeds for free and imparting teaching on cultivation methods.
Clarifying that government was not against sugarcane crop, Tiwari said,”Where ever there is ample amount of water like in Western Maharashtra, sugarcane remains the favourite crop. But in drought-hit areas, the crop pattern should change in favour of crops that consume less water,” he said.
Tiwari said in drought-hit areas where farmer shun sugarcane crop, the taskforce will urge the government to provide compensation to sugar factories.
“But all this needed concerted efforts, especially on the part of local politicians, who should come together and take a united decision vis-a-vis changing cultivation pattern,” he said.
State Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said, “While the state government is claiming that it had launched a number schemes to halt farmers suicides, the figures tell a completely different story. All this means that the plans are only on paper and at ground zero, nothing is reaching the farmers. How can the government sitting in Ivory Towers know what is happening in faraway in Marathwada? This government is busy with paperwork and not doing any ground work,” he said.