Nothing seems to have gone right for farmers in the current financial year. It began with a delayed monsoon. When it came, the rainfall was scanty. Just when the farmers were preparing to move on, with whatever they could grow, they were struck by repeated spells of unwanted, unseasonal rains – three in as many months, to be precise. The effect has been cataclysmic, with extensive damage to wheat, corn, onions, grapes, mangoes, etc.
With their money and hard labour gone down the drain during both kharif and rabi seasons, the farming community in Maharashtra is staring at a grim future. The disasters have pushed most of them to the brink of bankruptcy.
People have either postponed or called off daughters’ marriages. More and more students are dropping out of schools and colleges in rural belts. With no money to support families and livestock, scores of farmers will soon end up in dingy corners of big cities, looking for odd jobs. Those with low threshold may choose to take the extreme step: ending their lives.
This human tragedy has been a regular feature across Maharashtra for past many years. It’s high time the state and the Centre took urgent and concrete steps to save lives and families. The situation in Marathwada has been so bad that it has emerged as the epicenter of farmer suicides this year.
The farmers were pinning their hopes on the newly elected BJP government, especially with a young chief minister at the helm of affairs. However, their patience is wearing thin as they are being given promises after promises by CM Devendra Fadnavis and various leaders from ruling parties.
To express solidarity with the farmers, Fadnavis recently spent a night at a farmer’s house. But one doesn’t know if he has really won their trust again in the absence of any tangible action. Take the case of Sanjay Patil. The 49-year-old farmer from Jalgaon lost his entire crop in hailstorm in November. Despite promises of compensation made in the winter session of the assembly in Nagpur, Patil and hundreds of farmers are yet to get any relief.
If this is the pace at which the government functions, then when will farmers from Konkan, Khandesh and Western Maharashtra – areas hit by the latest spell of hailstorm and unseasonal rains – get any help is anybody’s guess.
What is holding up the government from doling out compensation packages? There is no concrete answer. All one can get is different versions. Babus say they have sent proposals to the Centre thrice, but in vain. BJP leaders say while the Centre has agreed to help, they are clueless about when it will be coming.
In the absence of clear answers, one can only surmise: there is a huge communication gap between the state and Centre; state doesn’t have much influence upon Delhi; or the Centre is least bothered about the ordeal of farmers in Maharashtra.
Prime minister Narendra Modi often claims that he is for the farmers and will not take any decision against them. Isn’t it the time the farming community badly needs government help? Opposition Congress-NCP are holding press meets to rake up the issue, but they don’t seem to be loud enough to draw the government’s attention.
Some leaders in the ruling party say there is no money in the government’s coffers to help the farmers. If the state continues to receive untimely rain and hailstorm, then it will lead to a much bigger agrarian crisis. The government must work on short-term as well as long-term plans to tackle the situation. Farmers say they have a strong sense of déjà vu.
To begin with, the government should direct the administration not to recover loans and interests from the farmers. It should extend tenure of loan repayment and make immediate arrangement for additional financial help so that the farmers can get back on their feet and prepare for the next season. At the same time, the government can implement weather-based forecasting of crop yields and updating the farmers in advance about weather bullies through text messages.