Two months back, NewsClick reported the suicide of a 22-year-old boy whose onion crop had failed. This Akshay Tambe was from Bhoom tehsil of Marathwada, an area which is actually not known for onion cultivation. But the heart wrenching stories of farmers from the onion belt have not stopped even today.
In February this year, another farmer had made national news when he had sent a money order to the Prime Minister’s Office’s relief fund. Sanjay Sathe from Niphad tehsil of Nasik district in North Maharashtra had sent the money order to the PMO as a protest after he had got only Rs 1054 for 750 kg onions.
These two examples of this year are enough to tell us the story of the onion farmers of Maharashtra, especially in the North Maharashtra region. “Whenever there is a good crop, the market goes down. Traders buy onions at almost negligible price. Later they come out with higher price in market when in need. Ultimately, we are suffering,” said Dadasaheb More, a farmer from Niphad. He sold 6 quintal onion at Rs 300 per quintal. “State government has announced Rs 200 per quintal as arrears. It is yet to reach the farmers. But what difference would that Rs 200 make? The price should have been minimum Rs 1,000 this year,” he said.
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Maharashtra’s Nasik, Dhule, Nandurbar, Ahmednagar and Jalgaon districts produce 60% of India’s total onion crop. This belt is known for onions, banana and grapes. Onion is the principal crop for small farmers. As a large part of the state is facing drought this year, onion was the only hope for farmers to survive. But, rates never picked up for the entire season.
In Nasik’s Yeola Agriculture Produce Market Committee, farmers had gathered to discuss what could be done next. “There is no fixed rate. Now it is around Rs 400 per quintal. You can’t keep onions at the godown for too long. We don’t think the government will offer us a good rate even at the end of this season,” said Sanjay Talekar.
Farmers blame the central government’s policies for the fall in onion rates. “This government works for the middle class staying in big cities. To keep them happy, this government controls onion prices. Why is it that every time only farmers are forced to face problems? What if the city people have to buy onions at Rs 25 per kg? Otherwise how will the farmerssurvive?” asks another farmer, Shivaji Chiman Chavhan of Kopargaon tehsil of Ahmednagar.
Recently, the Indian government had imported onions from Pakistan, which became a major issue in Maharashtra. Even as the state’s farmers were protesting for higher rates, government imported onions. “Why did they import when Indian farmers were producing enough onions? Just to keep the rates under control? To keep the urban people in good humour? If this government is not looking after us then why would farmers respond?” asked Shivaji Chavan.
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North Maharashtra region consists of five districts and eight Lok Sabha seats. This region has always elected Shiv Sena-BJP alliance candidates in majority numbers. In 2014, all seats were won by the right wing alliance. Even in 2009, six were won by BJP-Sena. But this time, every seat here will face a neck to neck battle between the ruling and opposition side.
“Nobody had imagined that seats like Jalgaon, Dhule and Dindori will witness any serious contest. These have been the strongholds of BJP for the last three general elections. But now the situation has changed due to two issues. One reason is political mishandling. But the major issue is the disastrous failure in dealing with the issue of onion farmers,” said Srimant Mane, North Maharashtra editor of Sakal, a Marathi newspaper.
“We had thought last time (2014 general elections) that this man (Narendra Modi) would bring good days to us. But forget that, we have seen the worst days in the last three years. The onion farmers had never been so depressed. We have had enough of his false promises of Achhe Din (good days). What we need to do, we will do on that (voting) day,” said Sanjay Talekar. This indicates the anger and shattered hopes of farmers. But will that be enough to change the political scenario of North Maharashtra, that remains to be seen.
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