With the number of farmer suicides in Marathwada crossing 800-mark in 10 months of this year, the Maharashtra government has picked Osmanabad, one of the worst-affected districts, for its “zero suicide” plan.
To achieve the objective, the government has launched a slew of measures in Osmanabad which would be replicated subsequently in other seven affected districts of Marathwada. Osmanabad is one of the three worst-affected districts of Marathwada region. The other two are Beed and Nanded. By the end of last month, all three districts saw over 100 suicides, with Beed crossing the 150-mark.
Of the total 807 suicides by farmers, at least 294 are not related to crop failure or rising debt of farmers, say district officials. “But yes, as many as 513 deaths are due to indebtedness and crop failure caused by poor rains. Nearly 294 suicides have taken place due to various reasons, including illness or family disputes. In some cases, it was found they did not qualify as farmers. This emerged in a survey carried out by a team of officials,” Divisional Commissioner Umakant Dhangat said.
Almost every week over the past 10 months, the Marathwada region has seen suicides by farmers, sometimes the number being as high as 30 a week. This has prompted the government to initiate strong steps, including designating Osmanabad as the “model district” where it plans to bring down number of farmer suicides to “almost zero” in the next few months and then subsequently replicate the plan in other districts.
As the first step, officials have launched “mass counselling movement” of farmers and their families.
“This is being done by appointing committees at taluka-level. The committee members have to locate farmers in distress and start their counselling immediately. It primarily includes updating them about availability of government schemes whether it concerns improving farm yield or loan from nationalised banks at lower interest rates than those offered by money-lenders,” said Dhangat.
District officials are also holding public meetings in villages where well-to-do villagers are urged to identify those in distress and guide them to government counselling centres or nearby government departments. The officials are also reaching the door-step of the farming community to understand the travails they face in their everyday life.
Significantly, stress is also being laid on working on the mental aspects of farmers.
The officials under National Health Mission try to first understand the trauma the farmers are facing and then advise them how to cope with it.
Another significant step the state government has taken is to launch the Vasantrao Naik Swawlambhi Shetkari Mission. It has roped a prominent activist from Vidarbha, Kishore Tiwari, to head the mission.
“The mission has an express purpose to make farmers self-reliant, help them face vagaries of nature and free them from the clutches of money-lenders and the vicious cycle of debt,” he said.
Tiwari said the government was working at multiple levels to reduce the spiralling cases of farmer suicides.