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Maharashtra assembly session – Farmer Suicide

Policymakers lock horns over farm crisis, 3-day debate ends in logjam

15 March 2016

EVEN AS Maharashtra remains in the grip of a deep agrarian crisis and cases of farmer suicides continue to rise, a discussion on farm relief measures in the Legislative Assembly ended with the BJP government and the Opposition trading blows and levelling allegations against each other.

The debate over extending a loan waiver to drought-hit farmers was lost amid the din. With Maharashtra facing a third drought in four years, official government statistics show that 3,228 farmers in the state ended their lives in 2015, the highest ever in the state’s history. The state government, however, disbursed relief in 1,841 cases as only these were found eligible for aid as per prevalent norms.

In the Legislative Assembly, policy makers discussed the crisis over three days. But it ended with the Treasury and the Opposition benches intensifying hostilities. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis himself got into a verbal duel with senior Opposition legislators, while his senior minister Prakash Mehta was seen storming into the well and egging members from the ruling side to join him in jeering the Opposition.

While the Opposition’s persistent demand for a loan waiver for farmers led to the flare-up, Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Eknath Khadse did announce some new relief measures for farmers. He said, “The government had decided to waive all conditions for extending relief assistance to families of farmers who have committed suicide.” The earlier process for extending relief in such cases was to verify if a farmer had been forced to end his life owing to crop failure or farm loan arrears. “We have decided to waive it,” Khadse declared.

A financial aid of Rs 1 lakh is extended to such families. Khadse also declared that the relief assistance after a farmer’s death in a natural calamity would be increased from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 4 lakh, whereas a financial assistance of Rs 2 lakh would be provided to families of farmers who die in man-made accidents.

Khadse also announced some drought mitigation measures that the government plans to unveil as the water scarcity has now spread beyond the three districts of Latur, Beed and Osmanabad, all in Marathwada.

He conceded that there was severe drought in the state. He said this was the first time in the state’s history that it had to declare relief in rabi areas. “The state has received the highest-ever Central assistance,” he said.

“The state has been forced to announce a drought-like situation even in areas of rabi cultivation for the first time in its history. A paucity of water has seen kharif crop production go down by 22 per cent. The rabi crop production is also expected to decline by 25 per cent this year,” Khadse announced, declaring that the government would distribute free seeds for cultivation in the coming season for distressed farmers.

The discussion flared up after Nationalist Congress Party MLA Jayant Patil, a former finance minister, questioned the CM’s claim that his government had allocated Rs 18,000 crore for drought relief so far, and demanded an account of this expenditure.

Hitting out at the Opposition for ‘politicising’ the farm crisis, Fadnavis alleged that the Congress-NCP government had just spent Rs 5,000 crore for farm relief in 15 years when it was in power.

In a combative mood, Fadnavis even labelled the ministers of the previous Congress-NCP regime in Maharashtra as ‘scamsters’ and blamed them for the ongoing farm crisis.

Former CM Prithviraj Chavan had earlier fired a barb at the Fadnavis government. “The government takes on a Rs 7,000-crore burden for suspending local body tax. It waives off toll. But it does not want to give a loan waiver even as this can contain farm suicides,” the Congress MLA had said in the House.

Countering the allegation, Fadnavis said his government had allocated over Rs 18,000 crore for farm relief, including Rs 8,000 crore that were distributed last year, and the remaining that were earmarked in December, while alleging that the previous regime had spent just Rs 5000 crore in 15 years. This saw the Opposition MLAs storm into the well and raise slogans against the government. Amid the uproar, Patil asked Fadnavis to give an account of the Rs 18,000 crore.

Targeting the Opposition, Fadnavis accused the Congress-NCP government of extending Rs 50,000 crore in concessions to industries. He also alleged that the Rs 70,000-crore scam in the irrigation sector was responsible for the state’s agrarian crisis.

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