The way the Centre’s announcement on Thursday of Rs778 crore as aid for drought assistance to Maharashtra from the National Disaster Response Fund left out any mention of the drought-induced crop loss faced by five million plus debt-trapped farmers of Vidarbha has left many shocked.
The Vidarbha region, which has emerged as the country’s farmer suicide capital, has been reeling under its worst agrarian crisis ever due to truant rainfall leading to massive crop failure in cotton, paddy, pulses and soybean. On an average, three farmers end their lives every 24 hours. The government’s own figures show that more than 9,000 dry land farmers have killed themselves due to crop failure and economic losses due to cotton price.
“The government’s drive to push GM cotton in order to benefit one bio-tech MNC has only cruelly compounded the problems faced by farmers due to vagaries of climate since 2005 pushing many towards ending lives,” lamented Kishore Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. “Instead of atoning about the way they are responsible, the Centre has mocked the dead farmers and their bereaved families.”
In fact, the meeting of the high-level committee for central assistance to states affected by natural calamity where the aid was announced was chaired by Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, who is believed to understand the agrarian scene in the state only too well. The meeting in New Delhi was also attended by home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, finance minister P Chidambaram and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia too.
“One refuses to believe that all these ‘wise’ people didn’t realise it’d be wrong not to mention what is happening in Vidarbha. This is a ploy by the powerful western Maharashtra politicians’ lobby to ensure that the focus of the Centre and state is restricted to their region only,” charged Tiwari -- a charge which sticks when one considers how the local district administrations in Vidarbha have not even sent a report on the crop-loss to the state.
A team of central government officials led by joint secretary RB Sinha visited the state in November 2012 to assess the drought situation. Curiously, it didn’t visit Vidarbha despite conditions there. It seems their recommendations to the Inter-Ministerial Group constituted under the chairmanship of the agriculture secretary did not reflect any of Vidarbha’s concerns.
Many are now linking the total avoidance of any mention of the worst-hit region to these recommendations. Nearly everyone in the bureaucracy too feels stumped at the meagre amount released. “The state needs around Rs5,000 crore and that’s what had been suggested to CM Prithviraj Chavan. We were quite taken aback when he only asked for Rs2,857 crore. With the Centre’s latest announcement of Rs778 crore, one wonders what the logic is,” said a senior water resources ministry bureaucrat.