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Vidarbha's Dying Fields And Farmer's Suicides

By Vikram Jadav

03 May, 2011
The Verdict Weekly

While the government of India and Maharashtra, led-by Congress, which
claims itself as a party of aam aadmi and one of the world’s fastest
growing economies, only images of this new prosperity have reached the
impoverished rural areas where two thirds of India’s 1.1 billion
people live. Left behind by India’s soaring economic boom is Vidarbha,
a region of hilly forests in the middle of India. It used to be known
as India’s cotton belt – but now captures headlines as its suicide
belt - that’s an average one suicide every eight hours. Vidarbha
farmers face a grim reality of crop failures, sinking global cotton
prices and crushing debts. Farmers in default at the bank frequently
resort to illegal moneylenders who charge up to 100 per cent interest.
And, the government safety net – that once kept cotton prices closer
to the cost of production – has all but disappeared. Under India’s new
free trade policies, Vidarbha’s 3.2 million cotton farmers – most of
them small landholders – must compete in a global market that includes
formidable, often subsidized rivals, including American cotton
farmers.

At a moment when India is enjoying record economic growth, Vidarbha’s
four million cotton farmers who have been left behind, struggling to
survive on less than Rs 100 a day. Kishor Tiwari, former businessman
turned farmer advocate, whose tiny office in the heart of Vidarbha,
the cotton-growing region, functions as the archive and watchdog for
the suicide epidemic; traveling salesmen hawking genetically modified
- and costly - cotton seeds that require irrigation that few Vidarbha
farmers have; the last rites of a farmer who couldn’t pay his debts; a
tour of the poison ward at the local hospital, where beds are always
filled; and even Rahul Gandhi, the prime minister in waiting pays a
visit during the election ‘season’ whom the farming widows beseech for
help in convincing the government to forgive their debts.

The farmers of Vidarbha are the target of the government, politicians
and bureaucrats, for the reason they don’t know. On the event of
International Labour Day and Maharashtra Day on May 1, 2011, over 300
cotton farmers went on a day-long hunger strike in Vidarbha demanding
the lifting of the ban on cotton exports.

Speaking to THE VERDICT over telephone, Kishore Tiwari, president of
Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), which is spearheading the
agitation, said that the prices of cotton and pulses (tur dal) have
fallen by more than 50 per cent in the last month due to what he said
“anti-farmer export-import policies” of the centre.

“The present ban on cotton exports is to protect the textile lobby of
south India which is very close to some central ministers like Textile
Minister Dayanidhi Maran. This is responsible for the crises,
including falling prices, gripping cotton farmers in Vidarbha,” Tiwari
alleged.

Moreover, he claimed that some bureaucrats were influenced by strong
lobbying by the textile mill owners who wanted cheap raw material to
increase their profit margins. Tiwari said that he has written to
union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma taking strong objections to his
statement that there is no immediate proposal to raise export quota
for cotton. It may be recalled that during December 2010, citing the
upward trend in cotton and yarn prices, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M
Karunanidhi urged Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to suspend cotton
exports and cap cotton yarn exports as well as levy an export duty on
it with immediate effect. In a letter to Manmohan Singh, a copy of
which was released to the media, Karunanidhi - referring to the
central government’s permission to export 55 lakh bales from November
onwards - said: “Between last week of September 2010 and the last week
of November 2010, cotton prices have increased almost by 20 percent.
Further hectic buying indulged in by the exporters of cotton has
resulted in arrivals to the market being woefully inadequate to meet
the domestic consumption”.

“Normally the period of 4-5 months after October witness a dip in
cotton prices owing to fresh arrivals in the market. However, this
year, the clearance given for exporting 55 lakh bales of cotton has
resulted in a hand to mouth situation by which virtually no cotton is
available in the market to build up cotton stocks,” he said.
According to him, competing countries like China maintain a stock to
use ratio of about 33 per cent as against India’s 17 per cent.
Referring to the rise in cotton yarn prices due to increase in cotton
exports, Karunanidhi has said yarn exports should be moderated so that
value addition is possible downstream, “…so as to enable higher
production of powerloom cloth, knitwear, handloom cloth, garments
etc.”

“The prices have plummeted to below Rs 4,500 a quintal during the last
fortnight from a high of Rs 7,000. The situation can be salvaged by
hiking the export quota to 15 million cotton bales from the existing
5.5 million,” alleged Tiwari.

He pointed out that the export restrictions are shocking, especially
when there is good demand for cotton in the global markets which the
country exploit and the farmers can made good their losses of the past
one decade.

“Floods have hit cotton crops in China and Pakistan while the crop
area was slashed the US. It is a rare chance for the country to export
cotton at very good prices. It is a mystery why the quota is not being
increased this year when last year 8.3 million cotton bales (each bale
at Rs 170 per kg) were exported,” Tiwari pointed out.
The others who participated in the hunger strike included leading farm
activists Kashinath Milmile, Ravindra Demapure, Rajendra Chawardol,
Suvidhi Surana, Jagmohan Bojoria,Vijay Kondawar, Mohan Jadhav, Letuji
Jughare, Chandrakant Patil, Tukaram Meshram, Mohan Mamiddwar and
Moreshwar Watile.

Meanwhile, on the occasion of the state celebrates its 51st year of
formation and winding up golden jubilee ceremonies, with much fanfare,
giving away awards and busy with felicitations and promises, attended
by senior people, including the Maharashtra Governor and Chief
Minister, the suicide rate in the backward Vidarbha region continued.
According to Kishore Tiwari, four debt-ridden farmers committed
suicide in the region in the first two days of May 2011.

Taking into account of these deaths, the toll has risen to 178 in the
year 2011. The figure for last year was 748. In month of April alone,
41 farmers ended their lives in the region, according to the
statistics compiled by the VJAS. Among the latest victims of the
agrarian crisis, two were from Yavatmal district known as epicentre of
the farmer suicides and one each from Buldhana and Amravati. The
victims were identified as Rajanna Kayapalliwar (45) of Salburdi,
Bhaurao Shendur (55) of Saikheda (both in Yavatmal district), Govind
Ghule (32) of Dhanora in Buldhana and Budharam Sonwane (76) of Amla in
Amravati district. All of them died after consuming pesticide, the
reports added.

Tiwari claimed that Bhaurao Shendur of Saikheda was the seventh victim
from the village. “Hit by the failure in farming and unable to repay
their loans, cotton farmers in these dry-lands seek escape in death,”
he said. He also alleged that the special relief packages from the
union and the state governments suffered from rampant corruption and
lack of coordination among the implementing agencies.

“The prices of cotton and pulses (tur dal) had fallen by more than 50
per cent in the last month due to ‘anti-farmer export-import policies’
of the UPA government at Centre. He also alleged that the agricultural
ministry led-by Sharad Pawar, is have their own hidden agenda and are
in hand-in-gloves with racketeers controlling the cotton and
food-grain market.

The government, especially Sharad Pawar, is much interested in the
‘rich man’s game’ (cricket), which is watched by the industrialists,
celebrities and rich politicians. They are not interested in the
enlistment of farmers in Maharashtra, who are forced to commit
suicide. They are interested in pouring money in to the valets of
cricketers, deliberately forgetting the poor farmers,” said Tiwari.
He also alleged that the Union Minister, who is instrumental in
raining money on the players, has done little to arrest the suicide of
the farmers by solving their problems.

“The money the government and industrialists spends on cricket is only
benefiting the players. It is not going to stop the farmers’ suicides,
it is not going to solve the fertilizer shortage in the state and it
will not solve the power and water shortage in the state,” added
Tiwari.

Vikram Jadav is a senior journalist, who keeps a tab on current
affairs, politics, and crime scenario in Maharashtra. He works for
Marathi daily Vruth Manus and Hindi tabloid Mumbai Sandhya and The
Verdict Weekly (English) which are circulated widely and read by the
mass. He can be contacted via email: vikrammanas@gmail.com




 


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