Concerned at the high rate of farmer suicides in Maharashtra, the state legal aid services authority has decided to raise awareness among crop growers of various legal remedial measures at their disposal to avail government benefits.
In its bid to bring farmers out of the clutches of moneylenders and debt traps, the Maharashtra State Legal Aid Services Authority (MSLASA) has embarked upon an annual project to help cultivators, especially those in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions.
MSLASA is a statutory body that provides free legal aid to the weaker sections of the society and organises Lok Adalats for amicable settlement of disputes.
The initiative – Project for tackling problems of farmers and to prevent them from committing suicide – was launched recently under the guidance of the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court Mohit Shah and Justice S J Vazifdar.
Under the programme, a team of para-legal volunteers comprising law students, anganwadi workers, psychiatrist or respectable persons in a particular area will work at taluka levels to reach out to farmers, offering them help.
Officials said the volunteers familiarise the farmers with central and state-run schemes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, or any other welfare programmes, that can be beneficial to them.
Member Secretary, Swapna Joshi said, "Every year MSLASA takes up a project to spread legal awareness in different sections of the society. This year, we will be working to help the farmers as a lot of them have been committing suicide for various reasons."
Maharashtra saw 3,146 farmer suicides in 2013, says the National Crime Records Bureau. According to a blog by veteran journalist P Sainath, who has extensively worked on the issue, 60,750 farmers have killed themselves from 1995 to 2004. An average of 3,685 crop growers have taken the drastic step in the state between 2004 and 2013.
Deputy Secretary S B Bahalkar said, "The teams will not only limit themselves to spreading awareness about the options available to the farmers but also help the farmers draft, compile all necessary documents and papers and approach authorities concerned with their applications to avail the benefits."
The teams will have psychiatrists and locals of some repute who will hear to the problems faced by the farmers and dissuade them from ending life. The volunteers will also take the help of farmers, who have been successful in getting a good crop using innovative methods, to interact with other farmers and share their experience.
Bahalkar said, "The most effective way to avoid death is to instill confidence in them. And if a farmer has been successful he can act as a role model for many."