Who is going to bell the agrarian crisis?

“Any party which takes credit for the rain must not be surprised if its opponents blame it for the drought.”

- Dwight Morrow, American politician

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his colleagues must have been going through the speeches they had made as opposition in the legislature in the past 15 years, especially in the matters of the agrarian crisis and its unfortunate outcome thousands of suicides of distressed farmers. The reasons for this crisis have been discussed for hundreds of hours in both legislative houses and outside them; relief measures were announced time and again; and relief packages were analysed for their impact. Sadly, successive relief measures have not changed farmers’ lives for any better. The state is still witnessing 7-8 suicides every week.

The crisis was politicised every time it escalated. The BJP is in the government both in the state and the Centre. The Congress and NCP, which had offered relief packages to the distressed farmers, are now in the opposition. The Shiv Sena, despite being part of the government, has lapped up every opportunity to corner the BJP and has been speaking like an opposition over the agrarian crisis, in the ongoing legislative session.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 2,568 farmers from the state have ended their lives in 2014. Activists have contested the statistics saying that more than 4,000 suicides happened in the state last year. This year, the farm crisis appears increasingly serious. The absence of rains in the past month has affected 91 lakh hectares of the state’s 135 lakh hectares of farmland sowed by the farmers after the initial spells of monsoon. These ‘neonatal’ crops are destined to die if we don’t get rains early this week. The state agriculture department has already started working on the rabi (winter) season, expecting that the late rains might help grow crops then. Failed crops are not limited to the regions like Vidarbha and Marathwada. This time, it is across the state, including the traditionally water-rich (irrigated) parts of western Maharashtra.

Four successive drought-affected years have added to the financial woes of the indebted farmers. The government did help them by restructuring their farm loans this year so they can avail of finance for the current kharif season. But the rain deficit will require re-sowing and more money. Where will this money come from? The outcry for a farm loan waiver has intensified because of the increasing number of deaths. The situation is no different than 2005-06, when the then UPA government had announced special package for farmers in Vidarbha, and after a couple of years, offered a country-wide farm loan waiver of Rs 71,000 crore.

And, being in a welfare democracy, the farmers are looking up to the state and the Centre as their ultimate saviour, yet again. Non-farmers, such as the taxpaying working class, will definitely question the demand; but they should understand that the farmers constitute one of the largest blocks of our economy and, hence, we, as the country, cannot afford to harm this unorganised sector.

However, taxpayers can definitely ask the governments, both in Mumbai and in New Delhi, to carry the benefit directly to the affected ones and ensure that more farmers don’t commit suicides. The experience in the past has not been so good. Corruption has been rampant in distribution of relief material like cattle fodder, drinking water supply through tankers and construction of irrigation projects of all sizes. Even the current CM’s pet water conservation project, Jalyukta Shivar, has reported irregularities and corrupt practices by the contractors and officials. Such incidents will only cease when political bosses stop encouraging the corrupt.

We expect the BJP government to come out with long-term effective measures because it had been suggesting ways and means when it was in opposition. We know that the Fadnavis government does not have Rs 24,000 crore at its disposal to write off the entire loan amount. At the most, the CM may offer relief to the tune of Rs 5,000-6,000 crore, when he makes the announcement in the legislature today. There cannot be a better time to demand that the CM corrects the system - beginning from the top to the bottom - and avoids mistakes that were made by erstwhile rulers.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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