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Are Maharashtra’s Coffers so Empty That it Can't Help its Farmers?

The state’s farmers are facing heavy losses due to unseasonal rains. However, the state is failing to help them due to rising debt and is looking to the Centre.
Maharashtra Farmers' Protest

Farmers' protest in Maharashtra. | File Photo.

The state of Maharashtra has been witnessing heavy to medium rainfall over the past eight days. It is harvesting season; the rain has inundated entire fields. A large number of farmers have been unable to take the harvested crop back to their homes. 

The farmers’ losses are resulting in a growing demand for immediate help. However, the state government is looking to the Centre to help farmers.

On Sunday, while interacting with the media during his tour of Marathwada, ruling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief, Sharad Pawar, said he would lead a delegation of Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) MPs to Prime Minister Modi and demand for financial help. Infamous for its dry spells, Marathwada has been battered by rain this year. “The state government will do everything possible to help farmers. However, the state government alone won't be able to shoulder the losses. Therefore, we are planning to meet PM Modi and request him to help the state,” Pawar said on Sunday in Osmanabad.

Before senior Pawar's statement, his nephew and the state's finance minister, Ajit Pawar, reportedly said in Pune that the Maharashtra's pending dues with the Union Government is close to Rs 60 thousand crore. He added that the state would like to help farmers but that only the Centre could provide funds immediately. “The state is being run on loans. We can't give money,” local media quoted Ajit in Pune on Saturday.

On the other hand, the state's relief and rehabilitation minister, Vijay Wadettiwar, said on Sunday that his government would do everything possible to help the farmers. “If needed, we will borrow more but won't leave the farmers alone. We are with them and committed to help them,” he said.

Maharashtra under Rs four lakh 84 thousand crores of direct and Rs two lakh crores indirect debt. Direct debt may rise to Rs five lakh 20 thousand crore by the end of this financial year, a number which will be 16.16% percent of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). The state is also mulling over increasing borrowings up to two per cent to overcome losses, a senior officer of the finance department said. 

The state government spends about 55% its income on salaries, loans, interest and pensions. This year, due to the lockdown, the revenue shortfall could go up to Rs one lakh crore. The financial burden on it could be unprecedented. On Monday morning, Sharad Pawar told the media in Latur that “Maharashtra is going through a serious financial crisis” which was “unprecedented”. 

The state government has a number of ways to increase its income. Agriculture is an optio but the heavy rains has put paid to that promise. Given the situation, farmers’ organisations have asked the government to come forward and help the farmers. The All India Kisan Sabha and the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana have already demanded that the government should provide Rs 50,000 per acre given the losses. “From soyabean to corn, vegetables to onions and from rice to cane, the farmers have lost everything they had. Rains are unlikely to stop for four more days as per the forecast. In such a case, the state government is only point of hope for farmers. We demand Rs 50,000 per acre as immediate compensation,” said AIKS chairman Ashok Dhavale.

Former MP and MVA alliance partner, Raju Shetti, said that he would hit the streets if the state government failed to help farmers. “We will have to protest aggressively. Farmers feed everyone and the day has come when the farmer won't be able to feed his own family. In this case, the government should release funds directly into the hands of farmers,” he said.

The loss due to heavy rains has restarted the vicious cycle of farmer suicides. Latur, the most affected district of the Marathwada region, has seen three suicides as yet. Parmeshwar Biradar, a 34-year-old small land-holding farmer, died by suicide after his entire soyabean crop was lost to the rains. Gopinath Maddead, a 68-year-old farmers from Udgir tehsil in Latur also died by suicide. He was already under pressure due to a loan and couldn’t hold on further. 

"The state government will have to make its stand clear immediately. The farmers need to know, otherwise the tension of loans and these losses will be dangerous. The number of such unwanted incidents may rise in the coming days if the government fails to provide relief,” said Manik Kadam, a farmer leader from Marathwada's Parbhani district. 

Experts on the agriculture economy believe that help to farmers would ultimately revive the economy. “The Centre's Fasal Bima Yojana is crucial in such times. The government will have to make it effective; it is failing currently. If the farmers get money there will be a trickle down effect seen for the entire rural economy. The state should help but at the same time, the Centre has more responsibility now,” said Professor Milind Murugkar of the K.K. Wagh Institute Of Engineering Education And Research.

However, the BJP's state president, Chandrakant Patil, is laying the blame on the state government for mismanagement. “Now you are asking money from the union government. If it has to do everything then why you are there in power?” he asked the MVA government.

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