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After loan waiver, no Art of Living course for Vidarbha farmers

Till last year, a cornered Maharashtra Government was trying to rope in every possible organisation and individual to help Vidarbha’s crisis-ridden farmers...

Written by Vivekdeshpande | Nagpur |
June 27, 2008 10:19:40 pm

Till last year, a cornered Maharashtra Government was trying to rope in every possible organisation and individual to help Vidarbha’s crisis-ridden farmers, saying that the beleaguered cultivators needed psychological and spiritual counselling too. Post loan-waiver, it appears as if their need for emotional upliftment has evaporated as well.

For 17 months, with full blessings from the state Government, hundreds of Art of Living (AOL) volunteers fanned out to about 507 villages in six Vidarbha districts — Yavatmal, Wardha, Washim, Akola, Amravati and Buldana — to give the farmers spiritual as well as agricultural help.

This year, however, the Government provided no funds for the projects, forcing AOL to pull out its volunteers and send them to Rajasthan instead. “The work in Vidarbha has been temporarily halted, like last year, due to the monsoon season. People are busy with the farm work and it becomes difficult to get them into camps and meetings,” AOL’s state co-coordinator Ramesh Raman said.

He, however, added, “We will have to take a call on the magnitude of work to be carried out after the monsoon as the Maharashtra Government has not provided any funds during the current financial year. Also, there is a general perception that after the farm loan waiver, the official machinery need not do anything, although the ground reality is totally different.” He added that Vidarbha now seems to be off the radar of corporate donors as well. “The loan waiver and the economic slowdown are the main reasons. Also, there are fewer suicides and the area is not in the news any longer.”

AOL received Rs 14 lakh from the state Government as against its total spending of nearly Rs 75 lakh. While a small part of that came from AOL’s own coffers, most came from its corporate donors, according to Raman.

The spiritual organisation’s chief guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, had visited Yavatmal district to an enthusiastic welcome on October 29 last year. Government officials were all praise for AOL’s work, which included creating farm ponds, training farmers in novel techniques such as organic farming and multiple-cropping, and providing spiritual counsel to distressed cultivators.

Department of Relief and Rehabilitation secretary Ramesh Kumar told The Indian Express that the loan waiver wasn’t the reason for the Government to abandon its association with the AOL, but confirmed that he did not receive a go-ahead for continuing the project this year. “The Government isn’t averse to the idea, but the director-general’s office (of the Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swawalamban Mission in Amravati, a specially created agency to implement relief packages to six cotton district) has to send us a proposal. We can still provide funds.”

The director general of the mission, V V Gopal Reddy, however, appeared to have a favourable view of the AOL programme. “In February, we had asked the district collectors to consolidate their demands. I will check with them once again, but we definitely have a good opinion about the programme.”

Asked if AOL will return to Vidarbha after monsoon, Raman said, “We will. But we won’t be able to work on the kind of scale we were working on until now.”

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