Yavatmal: Recent rains have given Vidarbha a fresh look, but they have done little to ease the misery of thousands of farmers in these districts at the eastern edge of Maharashtra as they live with the reality of parched fields and mounting debt.
As election fever grips the state, farmers in Yavatmal and nearby districts swear politicians have turned their backs to them, just as nature has.
The delayed and deficient rains—the region received only 60-70% of the average rainfall this year too—have demolished any lingering hope. The standing crop of cotton, soya bean and jowar has already wilted. Although it started raining in June-end, giving farmers a slender thread of hope to cling to, the subsequent prolonged dry spell has left Yavatmal district, the epicentre of farmer suicides, in crisis yet again. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there have been at least 182,936 farmer suicides between 1997 and 2007.
Fraught livelihood: Bhavsingh Harji Rathore’s crops wilted due to a long period of deficient rainfall. And an inadequate farm loan waiver scheme meant the 60-year-old was unable to pay off his Rs1.5 lakh loan. Ashesh Shah/Mint
Meanwhile, anger against politicians is boiling over.
“How thick-skinned these politicians are to visit us seeking our votes. They come only at election time, forget us for the next four years and come again to renew the promises,” says Kashinath Rathore, a farmer in Bothbodan village, 15km from the district centre in Yavatmal. Apart from the major political combinations—the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena, and the Republican Left Democratic Front (RLDF), or the Third Front, and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)—eight independents are also contesting from the Yavatmal assembly constituency for the 13 October state elections.
“We are like animals. The politicians do not care for people like me in the villages. They do take care of those who live in cities. No one wants us because we are powerless,” says Suresh Nanakchand Chaitani, a labourer who has not been getting any work for the last three weeks, struggling to bring a smile to his wrinkled face.
Unlike Kalavati, the distressed farmer widow whose story was brought to the world’s attention by Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Chaitani’s destiny has not changed even after the Congress’ star campaigner visited his home. “Last year on 18 July, Rahul Gandhi came to my house, sat there for almost an hour, promised that my life would be different. But nothing happened,” Chaitani says, showing the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme card, (obtained under the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, government’s most popular flagship programme) with no entries on it. “I have not got a single bit of work, nor have I received a single paisa as wage under this scheme since I got this card in 2006,” Chaitani says.
Villagers in Bothbodan, where 18 farmers committed suicide in a month in 2007, say only around 12 farmers among the 2,000 people living in 300 houses, most of them dilapidated, benefited from the UPA government’s Rs71,000 crore loan waiver scheme.
Ramesh Madhav Jadav, whose debts total Rs75,000, explains the politics of the loan waiver. “Nothing came to us. All the money went to farmers in Baramati because the agriculture minister comes from there. While we got Rs6,000 as loan per acre, farmers there managed Rs1 lakh,” he says, referring to NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s constituency. Pawar shifted to the Madha Lok Sabha constituency in the April-May general election, leaving his traditional Baramati seat to his daughter Supriya Sule.
However, Avinash Paranjpe, an economist who has done field work in Yavatmal, says the farmers in Baramati and other western Maharashtra areas could get more loans because their main crop—sugar—was of high value and the loan amount would be higher for sugar farmers. “Actually, the crop decides the loan amount, not Sharad Pawar,” he says.
However, he agrees with the farmers’ allegation that the benefits of the loan waiver scheme and other relief packages have not reached the ground level.
According to Jadhav, a Rs6,000 loan for 1 acre cotton farming is ridiculous. “You need three bags of cotton seeds (each costs Rs750), 15 bags of urea (Rs500 each) and pesticides worth Rs6,400 for each crop in an acre. The labour charges for de-weeding and other costs are separate. That is why we go to private parties for borrowing money. Neither the officials nor the politicians understand this,” he says.
The situation on the ground is quite disheartening. With no rains and irrigation, Jadhav’s cotton plants on 3 hectares behind the village houses started wilting and the soya bean crop has already dried up. “Twenty years ago, I used to get 10 quintals per acre and now, it is not even one quintal. How do I look after my family (of nine members)?” he asks.
Another farmer, Bhavsingh Harji Rathore, who lives alone in his mud hut, has a similar story to tell about his farm. The 60-year-old got a Rs20,000 relief from the bank, but his Rs1.5 lakh loan is still unpaid.
In the neighbouring hut, 80-year-old Chandrabal Chauhan and his wife Domy are almost bedridden. With no children to look after them, the elderly couple stopped farming as it gave them no benefit.
“The Congress leaders make loud speeches about the schemes they launched for senior citizens. Despite several requests to the leaders, none of them bothered to provide some help to this elderly couple. Our village was visited by many dignitaries including Rahul Gandhi, Mani Shankar Aiyer and even spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. But nothing has changed, only promises remain,” says Kashinath Rathore.
“We have so much barren land lying here. Why can’t the government bring in some industry here, so that our people get some jobs? It’s not that we are asking for money only. We want to earn our livelihood,” he says.
But the anger is not directed against any particular party. “No party is different. BJP and Shiv Sena leaders say they do not have power to do anything for us. But we know no one is better,” says Rathore.
The villagers are now planning to block all politicians from visiting them.