On Sunday, the day four farmers from Vidarbha committed suicide, taking this year’s toll to 628, Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said: “I don’t see problems in this region being as terrible as [they are] made out to be.”
On the second day of his visit to Vidarbha, Pawar was speaking at Pandharkawda in Yavatmal district, which is the epicentre of the farmer suicide issue “to assess the damage on the ground due to excessive rainfall and subsequent floods”.
As many as 8,088 farmers have ended their lives due to crop loss and debt since July 2006 when the prime minister had announced financial aid of Rs3,750-crore.
The four farmers who ended their lives due to crop failure are Chintaman Bolane of Gondia district, Manoj Madavi from Yavatmal district and Pravin Umekar and Damodhar Kalaskar from Amravati.
While Pawar’s response was dubbed as being “insensitive”, his refusal to meet some of the farm widows, who waited for hours outside the Pandharkawda guest house where he had lunch, has drawn the ire of farm rights groups.
Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti’s Kishore Tiwari said, “Sharad Pawar’s behaviour is in keeping with the feudal insensitivity that politicians from Western Maharashtra, who have ruled the state, keep subjecting Vidarbha to.”
Tiwari added that this “farm suicide tourism that Pawar is indulging in has come after 2006 when he had accompanied prime minister Manmohan Singh”.
The widow of one of the deceased farmers from Pimplapur, Mangalatai Kinake, 36, who waited outside the guest house to meet Pawar, said, “It is customary even for strangers to stop by to speak to a grieving widow like me. But Sharad Pawar’s convoy went past my village without stopping. When I went to see him at the guest house, I was not allowed to speak to him.”
Kinake’s husband committed suicide on August 17 when the Pola festival was celebrated. On this day farmers worship their oxen.
Top soil in more than a million acres of land in Vidarbha has been completely washed off, leaving it unfit for agriculture. Coupled with crop losses, this amounts to more than Rs20,000 crore. However, chief minister Prithviraj Chavan has submitted a proposal seeking Rs1,180 crore.