Thursday, January 28, 2010
farm trouble - Death harvests
Pradip Maitra in Yavatmal, Vidarbha
"The suicides (in Maharashtra) that have occurred are as much due to the failure of social and economic development to reach the poor as it is due to natural calamities."
(B O M B AY H I G H C O U R T , I N RESPONSE TO A PUBLIC INTEREST PETITION, 2004 )
"The plight of the farmers (in Vidarbha) made a deep impact on me."
AUGUST 15 ADDRESS, 2006
Sitting in her 11-acre farm here and gazing at the sky is now part of the daily routine for Varsha Netam. The pregnant widow of a farmer has no clue about her future.
The 21-year-old has to face the consequences of the suicide of her husband, Maruti Netam, on November 25 last year due to heavy debt and his inability to get a remunerative price for the cotton he grew.
THE DEBT-DROUGHT COMBO Most experts feel that the suicides are primarily because of crop failure, mounting debts and most farmers not getting crop loans.
Maharashtra saw a decline in farm suicides in 2005. But the year 2006 turned out to be the worst so far in this respect. And that was the year Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a Rs 3,750-crore debt relief package for six crisis-ridden districts of Vidarbha, eastern Maharashtra. This was in addition to the Maharashtra government's Rs 1,075 crore for the region. But as indebtedness to banks was a criterion in being eligible for compensation, many were left out.
Vidarbha falls in a rain-shadow area.
Following the drought in the region in 1992, 15 irrigation projects were cleared.
The Vidarbha Irrigation Development Corporation had once about 100 major, medium and minor irrigation projects in the pipeline. Most of them still remain on paper.
The central government in 2008 announced a Rs 71,000-crore loan waiver package (in which Maharashtra's share was about Rs 9,000 crore), to which the state government added Rs 6,200 crore. But those could not prevent farmer suicides in the region.
It is also a fact that just 15 per cent of the farmers are covered by the crop insurance scheme. However, for a farmer to be eligible for insurance, a district to which she/he belongs must be declared drought-affected.
In 2005, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences did a study of farm suicides.
It found that the phenomenon was not restricted to any category of landowners. But the concentration of suicides was greater among small farmers (who owned up to 5 acres) and middle farmers (who owned more than 5 acres but less than 15 acres). And the 2008 loan waiver applied to those farmers who owned up to 5 acres (one acre = 43,560 square feet).
An important finding was that 81 per cent of these households were literate, pointing to the fact that the families felt the need for younger people to continue education. Education meant loans, implying more indebtedness.
A LOSING PROPOSITION Rekha Chahere (27) of Hiwra village in Yavatmal lost her husband, Dilip, last year when he swallowed pesticide following crop failure.
"I was thrown out by my in-laws after the death of my husband and it is very difficult for me to feed my two daughters, Shubhangi (9) and Vaishali (7), forget providing them schooling," she said.
Rekha works as a farm labourer and earns hardly Rs 50 a day. "I get work around 15 days a month during the peak period," she pointed out.
She, however, could not get the relief compensation of Rs 1 lakh from the government because of bureaucratic hassles -- the reason given was that Dilip was not a landholder. Her mother-inlaw is the landholder, even though her husband was managing everything, being the eldest in the family.
Families want money for the weddings of girls and giving dowry, pushing them further into debt.
"Most of them borrow loans from private moneylenders, who often use muscle power to recover the loans.
There were several instances where moneylenders tried to molest wives of farmers who had failed to repay," said Srinivas Khandewale, former head of the department of economics, Nagpur University.
"The cotton price, which was Rs 2,500 a quintal in the early 1990s, rose to just Rs 2,800 this year and that won't cover a farmer's production cost, which has trebled in the past decade. While the repayment of his debt is impossible, he still requires money to feed his family and prepare for the next sowing season," Khandewale said. According to Kishore Tiwari of the Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti, while around Rs 1,800 crore was provided to farmers as crop loans in 2006, the figure was just Rs 1,240 crore in 2009 and it forced the farmers to borrow loans from moneylenders at an exorbitant rate (the rate is 50-60 per cent while the bank rate is only 6 per cent).
"Their debts soared when crops failed due to poor rain or when prices tumbled," Tiwari said, adding that this year farmers were affected by both -crop failure due to scanty rain and the farmers' inability to get fair prices for raw cotton from the market. He said that the lack of a food security for farmers had only worsened the situation.
Yavatmal District Collector Sanjay Deshmukh admitted that the government packages had not been able to stop the suicides. "There is a need for a long-term strategy on this," he said.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
Gearing up for Vidarbha bandh
NAGPUR: Through an all-out shutdown on January 20, Vidarbha may be looking to part roads with Maharashtra, but the ‘bandh’ will also mean roads empty of almost all autorickshaws . These three-wheelers are considered lifeline of the city’s public transport system because buses still do not reach everywhere.
They will join the strike but the autorickshaw union leaders are yet to decide about what to do with emergency cases. Vilas Bhalerao, an auto union leader, told TOI, “We have instructed all our members not to take out their vehicles during strike. We will be meeting on Tuesday to decide what is to be done with emergency cases like people in need of urgent medical attention.” Naresh Dagade, an autorickshaw driver, concurred with the decision.
“It’s no use taking the auto out on that day. Besides, the cause of a separate Vidarbha is close to my heart, therefore, I will do my part to show my support,” he said. The real reason why he has decided to remain home that day became clear when he added that his auto is brand new and it would be a pity if it was damaged by some miscreant.
Chandu Badiye, another autorickshaw driver and a resident of Anant Nagar, said that although he did not see any benefit from a separate Vidarbha state, he would keep his three-wheeler off the road on Wednesday. Like Dagade, he too fears damage to his vehicle. Bandu Hemke, another driver, had a different point of view. “I have told my regular customers that I won’t be taking any of the children to school that day. Some parents tried to talk me into taking their children as usual, but I told them the little ones might get hurt if miscreants tried to stop the vehicle,” he said. “I still plan to go around my regular business on Wednesday, in case any passenger wants to be ferried. If a mob attacks, the passenger will understand,” he added.
Cops' notices to Vidarbha leaders before bandh
NAGPUR: City police seem to be gearing up for Vidarbha bandh on Wednesday. Cops are learnt to have issued notices to senior Vidarbha activists saying that they would be held responsible for disruption of the law and order situation and damage to public and private property during the all-party bandh demanding statehood. The notices were served through respective police stations.
In a meeting of senior officials, the blueprint of the security arrangement is likely to be discussed on Tuesday. Force deployment would be finalized under the supervision of city police chief Praveen Dixit and joint commissioner D Kanakratnam. Police, anticipating support from the citizens and traders communities, is trying to concentrate on government offices where percentage of employees reporting for duty is likely to be higher. Cops on the road shall be alert to protect the government vehicles including state transport and city buses from damage.
Apart from the possible clash between supporters of Shiv Sena and pro-Vidarbha parties, the cops are learnt to be also wary of the cadres of the parties representing the backward section. Several top leaders shall be kept under watch and closely shadowed during the period.
With additional five companies of state reserve police force already here, city police are also set to take the support of the 600 homeguards including 100 women. The two quick response teams of city police shall be ready. City police have also upped their intelligence gathering network across the city and outskirts. Apart from different sensitive locations, highways shall be kept under vigil to ensure that activists do not block the corridors and paralyze interstate and inter-district traffic.
In the city, assistant commissioners and deputy commissioners of police will supervise the arrangements. Railways security forces have been also been put on alert against any attempts to disrupt train services.
Most pvt businesseswould remain shut
NAGPUR: Most private business establishments, especially retail and wholesale shops, are expected to remain shut on Vidarbha bandh, just a coup
of days away. Nag Vidarbha Chamber of Commerce (NVCC), the largest business association of the region, has extended support to the bandh. NVCC covers over one lakh trading establishments in the region. The bandh is expected to receive maximum response in the business areas of east Nagpur, such as Itwari, Gandhibagh, Maskasath and so on. Nagpur Chamber of Commerce Limited (NCCL) has already supported the bandh.
Most wholesalers such as those dealing in foodgrains, edible oil, and grocery items have extended the support to the bandh. There have been also cases where businessmen shut down the establishments only to avoid trouble as it is an all party bandh. A number of showrooms in west Nagpur and other plush localities may also remain shut on the bandh day.
A quick survey by TOI revealed that not just showroom and malls but even local corporate organisations were supporting the bandh. Padmesh Gupta of the Gupta Group, having stake in coal business, said he was in full support of the statehood and may decide on giving his employees a day's leave on the day. A senior executive of Big Bazaar store in the city said he would prefer to wait and watch before taking a decision. "If it looks unsafe to continue, we may shut down," he said. Girish Mulani, a prominent retailer having garment stores in the city, said that the estabshments run by his group would remain closed.
Amitabh Khanna of Vidarbha Software Exporters Association (VASE), says this association of IT firms, will support the bandh if the other industries' associations back it too. Favouring statehood he said, after Mumbai was congested the spill over investment from the IT sector remained focused in Pune only, while Nagpur remained neglected.
B L Shaw of NECO group, one of the oldest industrial organizations of the city, too expressed his support to the movement. As far as industries are concerned, they would remain closed anyway as January 20 falls on a Wednesday which is off day for industrial units. "Even as the units will be closed as a matter of routine, industrialists are wholeheartedly supporting the statehood cause," said the president of MIDC Industries Association Chander Khosla.
Support also came from chartered accountants and stockbroking firms and mutual fund agents. Kailash Jogani, a chartered accountant, said not only his office but a broking terminal run in the same premises may not function for the day. There were similar views by a chartered accountant having an office in Gandhibagh. Jogani, a former president of NCCL, said he would urge other chartered accountants and brokers to keep their offices closed on January 20.
An official in a private insurance company said though no decision was taken so far, a decision may be taken on Tuesday. A trade leader added that the bandh would be restricted only to shops and other similar establishments and corporate organisations having a nationwide presence may function normally.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
January 16th, 2010 - 9:37 pm ICT by IANS -
Nagpur, Jan 16 (IANS) Hundreds of motorists entering or leaving Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh were surprised to find new colourful hoardings welcoming them to new “states” of Vidarbha and Telangana Saturday.
A group of slogan-shouting pro-Vidarbha and pro-Telangana activists erected the hoardings at the Kanyakumari-Varanasi National Highway 7, on the Maharashtra-Andhra Pradesh borders, around 180 km from here.
“Let the government take its own time over the long-pending issue of Vidarbha. As far as we are concerned, we have symbolically created the new Vidarbha ’state’ here today,” Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) president Kishor Tiwari told IANS over phone from the border area Saturday evening.
The hoardings can be seen in Marathi and English with a map of Vidarbha region and in Telugu and English on the Telangana side, on the bridge of the Pen-Ganga river crisscrossing the state border here.
“Our agitation secured spontaneous and very enthusiastic support from the local villagers on both sides of the borders - 180 km from Nagpur and 325 km from Hyderabad,” Tiwari claimed. Over two dozen activists of the proposed separate Telangana state were also present when the hoardings were put up.
Bouyed by the response, the VJAS now plans to erect 50 similar “Welcome to Vidarbha” signboards at all the border points of Maharashtra with Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka in the next couple of days.
Besides this, it will put up similar hoardings at all important towns, villages, district borders and other prominent places in the region, Tiwari said.
He said that Saturday’s action was in preparation of the proposed Vidarbha shutdown called by Vidarbha Nirman Sangram Samiti - an umbrella organisation of 68 political parties and pro-Vidarbha groups - next Wednesday, followed by the 180-km long, two-day march of over 250 farmers for a separate state.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Sunday, January 10, 2010Yesterday, I watched an excellent discussion about the role of media (essentially the TRP-driven TV Channels) on the IBN 7 Channel. This one hour programme did a lot of introspection with some senior journalists on the panel, and I was mighty impressed with the anchor who didn't feel shy in asking some difficult questions and therefore was able to extract the right answers.
If media begins to really introspect and take corrective steps I am sure it can resurrect its poor image. Otherwise, the media, which is now a laughing stock, will sonner than expected slide into the dustbin of history.
I wake up in the morning, pick up my daily newspapers, and realise that it may not be that easy for the media to adopt a strict code of conduct. There are huge versted interests, which are quite clearly visible. Newspapers are business entities, and therefore market the products surruptiously in the garb of news. I draw your attention to a front page news in The Indian Express today: First time in 4 years, annual suicide tally in Vidharbha is below 1,000.
The blurb below spills out the business connection. It says - Key to the dip: Rs 1,300-crore loan waiver, Bt cotton crop, market prices. Now this line played up by the newspaper will leave an impression on you that Bt cotton was the saviour. Knowing that the Corporate giant Reliance has been backing Indian Express, and knowing that the newspaper has time and again carried unsubstantiated reports promoting Bt cotton, you are not surprised at this sub-head.
But then, the average reader is unable to draw the connection. The headline therefore leaves a wrong impression on him, and he/she thinks that Bt cotton is a good technology. And if you read the report carefully, except for a mention of Bt cotton, there is nothing to support this argument.
Even Kishore Tiwari, who heads the Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti, is quoted in the report as saying that the falling figure of suicides is a welcome sign. Positive measures like loan waiver, release of credit and good prices of cotton have undoubtedly helped. Nowhere does he talk about the role Bt cotton played in mitigating suicides. In fact, as well all know by now, Bt cotton had created more problems in the Vidharbha belt, and has actually been responsible for thousands of farmers to take the fatal route.
That 90 per cent of the cotton seed being used by farmers belong to the Bt cotton variety is no reason to celebrate its success. What is not known is that the seed companies, and the government, have worked hard to ensure that the non-Bt cotton seed disappears from the market. So if you go to the Vidharbha region, and ask for non-Bt cotton seed from seed dealers in the market, you will not be able to get even 100 gms.
The only option left for the farmers therefore is to buy what is available, and its only Bt cotton seed that is available.
Economists will not take this aspect into their analysis and for obvious reasons. You therefore have faulty and biased economic analysis coming out from institutes even as respected as Tata Institute of Social Sciences. In fact, I have been saying for long that agricultural economists are in a way also responsible for the prevailing agrarian crisis. They had all these years been telling farmers how much they can earn from farming using the chemical inputs. They painted a rosy picture luring gullible farmers into a virtual trap. They weaved figures (of profits) which turned out to be eventually untrue.
No wonder, 40 per cent farmers want to quit agriculture if given a choice. And over 200,000 have taken to gallows since 1997.
I will bring you more about the Bt cotton story as we go along. Meanwhile, you can read the Indian Express report by clicking on this link: http://epaper.indianexpress.com/IE/IEH/2010/01/10/ArticleHtmls/10_01_2010_001_008.shtml?Mode=1
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Two-day stir for separate Vidarbha state begins
Indo Asian News ServiceSun, Jan 3 06:46 PM
Nagpur, Jan 3 (IANS) Several political groups and social organisations Sunday started a two-day sit-in agitation here to press the demand for a separate Vidarbha state.
The initiative has been taken by Congress MP Vilas Muttemwar who led around 2000 people at the peaceful sit-in (dharna) before a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Variety Square in the heart of the city.
The agitators have demanded that along with the recently-approved proposal for a Telangana state, the central government should also 'favourably' consider the 50-year-old demand for a separate Vidarbha state.
This, they said, would save the region - worst-hit by a spate of farmland suicides in the past decade - from 'dying'.
Among the prominent groups which have joined the two-day stir is Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) which appealed to all political parties to support the demand for a separate state.
'Congress president Sonia Gandhi should consider the apathy shown to the people of this region in the past 50 years, which now has slid to among the most backward regions in the country though it falls in the most advanced state of India,' VJAS chief Kishor Tiwari said.
In a letter to the Congress president last week, Muttemwar said that even the erstwhile British rulers recommended a separate Vidarbha way back in 1888, followed by the State Reorganisation Commission of 1955, and then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1988.
In 1996, a delegation of senior leaders like Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Meira Kumar, K. Karunakaran, Rajesh Pilot, Balram Jakhar, Mukul Wasnik, Vasant Sathe, N.K.P. Salve, Sudhakarrao Naik and Muttemwar had met the then Prime Minister H. D. Deve Gowda demanding the formation of a separate Vidarbha as envisaged by the States Reorganisation Commission.
Tiwari said that more people are expected to join the stir on its second day Monday) and the voice of the people demanding a separate Vidarbha 'would echo till the national capital'.