Last week, a day after Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a Rs 10,512 crore package for Maharashtra’s farmers while refusing to declare complete loan waiver, Vishal Pawar, a farmer in Vidarbha’s Yavatmal district ended his life on Thursday.

Pawar left a suicide note addressed to the district’s guardian minister, Sanjay Rathod, in which he mentioned the burden of crop failure and expressed his last wish — a loan waiver.

Around 2,590 farmers across Mahrashtra have committed suicide from January to October 2015 — the highest number of suicides since 2001.

Data of the last two months is yet to be compiled. In 2006, around 2,376 farmers ended their lives.

Official data obtained by The Hindu from 2001 to 2014 shows that over 17,276 farmers committed suicide due to issues ranging from crop failure, inability to repay loans, over dependence on market forces that mostly work in favour of traders.

Not sustainable

“There is a need to introduce sustainable agriculture in Maharashtra. Money has to be pumped into the rural economy. Unless we do that, farmers will not gain much needed confidence,” said Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), who was recently roped in by the State government to head a mission to reduce farm distress.

According to Mr. Tiwari, who has been systematically documenting agrarian distress for several years, the government needs to indulge in long-term relief instead of short term measures like loan waivers.

While the state opposition agrees that long-term measures are important, it wants the government to look in to short term remedies as well.

“We are not asking the government to not invest for future. But what about the present situation? Loan waiver was one of the most important ways to give immediate relief to farmers,” said Prithviraj Chavan, former Maharashtra Chief Minister.

Old approach

Mr. Fadnavis, however, has always been against loan waivers saying it benefits banks and not farmers. The Chief Minister had also informed the Assembly that the State had made the same allocation of Rs 10,512 crore last year also.

However, a close look at the package announced reveals that the government has given more money to the schemes or relief work that was already in progress. The only new addition is the allocation of Rs. 250 crore for the new farm pond scheme.

In last three to four years, Maharashtra has witnessed extreme weather conditions that have either destroyed crops or left them damaged.

Depleting production and monopoly of traders has hit returns and added to farmers’ debt. With banks refraining from extending loans to farmers, many seek loans from private money lenders at exorbitant rates of interest.

According to Mr. Tiwari, apart from bringing money into agriculture through banks and government schemes, health and education needs of the farmers should be taken care of.

“These are presently very expensive areas. Farmers can be supported if money is invested in these sectors,” he said, adding that the previous government did not focus on this aspect.

A government official said that lack of supplementary sources of income other than farming has left farmers helpless in times of crop failure. “Successive years of drought have posed a big question on cattle grazing, which affected the capacities of these animals. It also impacts rural economy,” said the officer.

The Congress has claimed that the 2008 farm loan waiver, announced when they were in power, did manage to curb farmer suicides and seven years later, the present government must replicate it.

“It could have given confidence to the farmer. The government lost on the opportunity,” said Mr. Chavan.