Amid the aggravating agrarian distress in Maharashtra, the BJP-led state government has admitted that 12,021 farmers have committed suicide during its four years in power. State Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Subhash Deshmukh, in a written reply, on Friday, June 21, informed the Assembly that these suicides were reported between January 2015 and December 2018.
Of these 12,021 cases, only 6,888 cases, which accounts 57%, were eligible for the ex-gratia financial assistance of Rs 1 lakh. In rest of the 4,410 cases, the state has not provided help since those were not eligible for the assistance, the minister informed the Assembly.
Though the government had rolled out the farm loan waiver scheme- Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Shetkari Sanman Yojana (CSMSSY)- in 2017, it could not curtail the distress of farmers in the state. After the implementation of the loan waiver scheme, about 4,500 farmers have committed suicide in the state. While in the initial three months of 2019 itself, the state has seen 610 farmer suicides. Of this 610 cases, 192 have been found eligible for the assistance from the side of government, the minister added in the Assembly.
The minister responded on this issue after almost 30 members of the State Legislative Council raised the plight of farmers. Last Tuesday, June 18, opposition MLAs had staged a protest in Mumbai demanding a complete farm loan waiver. "Loan waiver must be given...Maharashtra is reeling under drought, the farmers are in trouble. We are protesting on these issues to wake the deaf government up," said Dhananjay Munde, who is the leader of opposition in the State Legislative Council.
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However, as per the information from the state government to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the farmers’ suicides that had been registered during the Congress- Nationalist Congress Party regime during January 2011 and December 2014 were 6,268.
The Rs 34,000 crore loan waiver scheme, CSMSSY, was launched in June 2017 targeting benefits for about 80 lakh farmers in the state. However, till December 2018, only half of the amount had been disbursed. The state government’s latest claim says that Rs 24,000 crore has been provided as loan waiver, so far, benefiting more than 50 lakh farmers. The farmers’ organisations, however, dispute the claim of the government saying that its a mere play of figures.
“Thousands of farmers are committing suicides which show that the loan waiver scheme has not been effective in addressing the issues of the distressed farmers. From the very first day of the loan waiver itself, we have been saying that the scheme has many flaws and the conditions that have been made do not help the farmers at all,” said Ashok Dhawale, the national president of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), one of the leading organisations that has constantly been raising the issues of farmers in Maharashtra and across the country, adding that, “Still, lakhs of farmers, including medium, small and marginal scale farmers, are outside of the scheme.”
Now the distress has been aggravated by the severe drought in the state especially in the Marathwada and Vidarbha region. Almost 25,000 villages in the state have been suffering due to water crisis. The Vidarbha region which has seen the maximum number of suicides received only 10 mm of rain in the last season which is less than 85% of the average rainfall. Marathwada has also seen deficiency in rainfall about 85%.
“Crop insurance scheme which is supposed to help the distressed farmers, however, helps the insurance companies to yield benefits,” Dhawale said. As per one of the recent reports, of total estimated claims of Rs 3,893 crore under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) scheme, Rs 1,416 crore is still pending in Maharashtra alone. All across the country, about 40% of the claims for the Kharif season which ended in December 2018 remains unpaid by the insurance companies.
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“Farmers and agricultural workers are not getting work even under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, which has further aggravated the distress,” Dhawale added.
Another important factor is that the farmers are not getting the Minimum Support Price (MSP) which had been promised by the government. “Nobody got the MSP announced by the government which is already less than the Swaminathan Committee recommendation. It is because there was no government machinery for the procurement of agricultural produces,” he said, elaborating on the government’s inefficiency to meet the demands of the farmers. Since there was no procurement machinery from the side of government, farmers were forced to sell their produces for meagre amounts.
Above all, the rising costs of inputs including fertilisers, seeds etc. added to the farmers’ woes. As a result, the cost of production has increased drastically in Maharashtra and throughout the country.
He added, “To meet these expenses, farmers seek credit from banks. Now the banks are not giving loans to lakhs of farmers saying that they have no money. Its not a question of money, nowadays the whole policy is to give loans to the corporates. That’s why the conditions of farmers are getting worse and worse.”
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