Vidharba: The Rat Poison Brides

Rs 82,000 crore spent, yet Vidarbha is counting its 117th suicide this year. ROHINI MOHAN nails what’s wrong with the Prime Minister’s giant relief fund. Photographs by VIJAY PANDEY

 Rs 82,000 crore spent, 80 percent farmers left out • Only 11 percent farmers use irrigation, rest depend on rain. Yet, 3/4ths of PMpackage geared for former • Waivers only valid for farmers with bank loans. But 75 percent borrow from moneylenders • Scheme ignores farmers with over 5 hectares, dying or not • Lethal fine print: if a farmer with a partially waived loan doesn’t repay outstandings by July 9, 2009, the waiver will be annulled • Multi-crore scam in PM’s cow subsidy • PM package sells soyabean seeds at Rs 3,500 per quintal, while it costs Rs 2,700 in MP. Worse, the state buys the farmers’ harvest at Rs 2,160, a rate lower than its own selling price

ONLY COWARDS commit suicide, they say. Only those who don’t have a fight in them; those who want to run away just when life gets tough. So what is the highest denominator of grief a man must choke back before he’s allowed to give up?

The temple courtyard in Wagdha village is filled with farmers, standing and squatting, looking at their feet in mournful silence. This is the 117th time this year that one of them has been driven to suicide. For the 117th time this year, a farmer lay flat on his back in his parched cotton field, looked skyward at the blinding sun and decided it wasn’t worth living. For the 117th time, a familiarly desperate life ended too soon.

The mourners tell the story of this 117th cotton farmer: Mangalchand Pratap. In the bone-dry Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, Mangalchand had endured more than any average 35-year-old could. The only legacy from his father to his three sons was an endless spiral of debt. Since he was 20, Mangalchand had struggled as the sole farmer in the family, while his brothers did manual labour in nearby cities. In 2008, a pest infection called ‘laal’ killed the entire crop on his five hectare field. He was left with nothing except the rising interest on the bank loan he had taken to buy cotton seeds. His wife, Surekha, recalls it as the year when the usually affable Mangalchand turned sour. “Each meal we fed our three children last year felt like a miracle,” says Surekha.

LOST: Husband drank rat poison in 2005 
 Disqualified for widow compensation

LOST: Husband drank pesticide in December 2005 
 Received Rs 1 lakh widow compensation

LOST: Husband hung himself in June 2007 
Partial loan waiver and soyabean seed subsidy

Husband drank pesticide in June 2005
RELIEF: Received Rs 1 lakh widow compensation

LOST: Mother jumped in a well in May 2008 
 Nil. Death wasn’t regarded farm-related

 Husband drank pesticide in November 2008
RELIEF: Nil. Application for PM package rejected

LOST: Father hung himself in September 2006
RELIEF: Nil. No benefit from package

Husband hung himself in December 2006
RELIEF: Soyabean seed subsidy. Cow subsidy rejected

 Husband and son drank pesticide in 2002 and 2006
RELIEF: Nil. Full loan waiver of Rs 15,000

Husband drank pesticide in November 2008 
Nil. Government took land for dam, has not paid yet

This year, with renewed hope and a prayer to the rain clouds, Mangalchand took a crop loan of Rs 30,000 to buy cotton seeds. On the morning of June 24, however, when he walked into his field, he saw the freshly sown cotton seeds ruined by “chota paani”or a small drizzle that drenches the seeds just enough to destroy them. That very evening, Mangalchand drank a bottle of pesticide. His brother Dhyaneswar saw Mangalchand crash to the ground, his mouth frothing and his hands clasping the dry black soil. Today, holding his brother’s eight-year-old daughter, Dhyaneswar says, “How much can a man struggle when he sees that his children are going hungry? My brother is just one of the many farmers that will commit suicide this year.”

Vicious cycle A fresh round of borrowing begins every year around May-June, when seed sowing starts

This ominous prophecy is, unfortunately, Vidarbha’s darkest truth. The cotton belt of Maharashtra has been infamous for farmer suicides since 2001 — activists and journalists have screamed themselves hoarse for the governments to respond. As more farmers committed suicide, the Congress-led UPA government announced a series of fire-fighting measures. The first of this came after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s two-day visit to Vidarbha in July 2006. In the face of a shocking 1,448 suicides that year, Singh announced a special relief package of Rs 3,750 crores for six drought-hit districts of Vidarbha. Later, in 2008, he offered a bigger bounty: Rs 71,860 crores by way of loan waiver for farmers across India. The waiver also served as a pre-poll sop that was critical in bringing the Congress back to power in 2009.

Till date, more than Rs 82,000 crores have been allotted to farmers through state and Central relief packages. Political gains have been reaped, and most of the money has been spent. Yet, every year, Vidarbha reports almost the same number of suicides, if not more (In 2001, 52 farmers committed suicide. In 2008, the number had risen to 1,267) So why have the packages failed to quell the suicides? Why is Vidarbha in an unending worst case scenario?

In Kedapur village, people point us to the house of Chandrakala Misra. “Most widows hire farm hands or simply sell off the land after their husband’s death,” says a neighbour, “But Chandrakala is a fighter.” Three years ago, she had woken up to find her husband Gangaram Misra hanging from the ceiling. Since then, Chandrakala has learnt to plough the land herself, a job traditionally reserved for men because of the difficulty in herding the oxen. “If you’ve come to promise me some package, don’t think I’m a fool,” says Chandrakala. “Every government official, media person, or NGO I have met has sold me empty promises of help.” Today, Chandrakala trusts no one but herself. She works 12 hours through every day of the year, as farm labour for big landlords and as a housemaid in three houses. She sends her two daughters to school, admittedly on huge loans from the moneylender. She has not a moment to breathe, and not an iota of help.


Loan waiver based on amount of outstanding loan, not acreage

Crop insurance in drought years to cushion harvest failure

Greater farm-related subsidies for non-irrigated farmers

Incentives to grow food crops, at least enough to feed family

Agricultural income tax to penalise those investing black money

Government must guarantee to buy produce at the right price

Chandrakala’s life today is proof of how crores may have been spent, but not much of that money has reached the neediest hands. She was rejected by the tehsildar for the Rs 1 lakh compensation given to widows of farm-related suicides. “Some government babus came and asked me if I wanted monetary compensation or education for my children,” says Chandrakala, “I asked for both. I got neither.”

An officer at Yavatmal’s district collectorate says Chandrakala’s husband must’ve killed himself “in a state of drunkenness” or because of a “domestic dispute” – the two most common official excuses for refusing compensation to bereaved families. As for the loan waiver, Chandrakala says, “That’s for people who were given bank loans in the first place. We were refused bank loans for at least 10 years and had to borrow from the sahukar (moneylender).” Today, Chandrakala is running the risk of losing her five hectare to the moneylender. “I now understand why my husband gave up,” she says.

In the blue Kishtabai’s husband drank rat poison last year. Her son Gajanand (in pic) dropped out of engineering college to do farming
Dispirited future Meera Kachru with her daughter in their village hut. Meera’s husband hung himself in 2005 due to harassment from a moneylender
On empty stomachs Surekha, whose husband committed suicide in 2009, says each meal the couple fed their children last year felt like a miracle
Spirit to struggle Chandrakala, a widow, works 12 hours every day as farm labour for big landlords and as a housemaid in three houses

People like Chandrakala are the reason relief packages were put together. But it is the Chandrakalas that they have ultimately looked right through. In 2008, Kedapur village’s Bhujanna Vittal was refused a full loan waiver because he had a landholding of five hectares (those with less than two hectares got a full waiver, and those with up to five hectares got a partial waiver). Of his Rs 50,000 bank loan, about Rs 20,000 was waived off in October last year. Two months later, Bhujanna went to the market to sell his much depleted cotton harvest. With the proceeds, he bought a kilo of rice, some tomatoes, and a bottle of rat poison. He was found on his cot the next morning, his face as blue as the walls of his house. “He had spent more money on growing the cotton than the harvest finally sold for,” says his widow Kishtabai, “I was not surprised when he committed suicide.” Her son, 20-year-old Gajanand, is less forgiving, “I was in engineering college on a full scholarship and have had to drop out to do farming. Without my father around, I’m expected to be the sole breadwinner.”

Worse, Gajanand and the close to six lakh farmers who received partial loan waivers in Vidarbha have now been informed by their banks of a lethal fine print: if they do not repay their outstanding loans by July 9, 2009, the waiver too would be annulled.

As the deadline looms, panic has spread through Vidarbha. Farmers in some villages have boldly declared that they will never repay their loans. Others quietly hope for another quick-fix package. This repayment clause was an unmentioned fine print in the much-touted loan waiver announced by then Finance Minister P Chidambaram. Since the average farm landholding in Vidarbha is five hectare, most farmers here got a partial waiver, unaware that they would have to repay the rest or forfeit the waiver. “We work on the fields from June to December, investing every borrowed paisa, and when it doesn’t rain and crops fail, we end up with no money to buy even food with,” says Hirasingh Chavan, a farmer in Washim district. “How am I supposed to repay my outstanding Rs 23,000? And if I can’t, why should I lose the waiver of Rs 20,000? What kind of package is this?”

A fresh round of borrowing begins every year around May-June, when seed sowing starts. At this point, Vidarbha’s farmer needs bulk cash — to buy cotton or soyabean seeds (around Rs 1,000 per acre), to plough the land (around Rs 1,000 per acre), and to purchase fertiliser and pesticide (around Rs 3,000 per acre). Years of below-average rain and crop has ensured that few farmers have any savings. Banks too refuse them loans because of their mounting previous debts. In 2006, the PM package had magnanimously directed banks to give crop loans even to defaulting farmers. Over 10 lakh farmers took loans that year, more than double the previous year’s numbers. But poor harvests for three straight years have meant that farmers are back to square zero. They’re unable to repay their loan and unable to borrow anymore.

‘If you’ve come to promise me a package, don’t think I’m a fool,’ says Chandrakala

MOST FARMERS haven’t repaid their loans for the past four years,” says RG Mahajan, manager of Bank of Maharashtra in Pahapal, Yavatmal district, “We’ve declared that 75 percent of farmers are not credit worthy.” A State Bank of India official in Amravati district says Vidarbha has always had the highest number of loan defaulters. “This year, we’re expecting the number of defaulters to rise further. Most of them are just hoping for another package to save the day.”

False promises, corruption and shameful indifference abound in the implementation of the PM relief package. An RTI petition filed by Yavatmal-based activist Vilas Wankhade in 2008 has revealed that the biggest beneficiaries of the PM package’s cow subsidy scheme (cows sold at a subsidy to bereaved families) were former politicians and sitting MLAs (see box). In 2007, a committee was formed to review the implementation of relief schemes in Vidarbha. Seven months later, economist Dr Narendra Jadhav, the head of the committee, spoke in a 102-page report of unmanageable corruption and supply of relief material at inflated costs. Soyabean seeds are sold under the PM package at Rs 3,500 per quintal while the seeds only cost Rs 2,700 per quintal in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh. “On top of that, the state government buys the soya from us at Rs 2,160 — so much lower than what they sell the seeds for,” says Narayan Vibhutey, a young farmer in Washim.

‘I was not surprised when he committed suicide,’ says Kishtabai of her husband

STUNG BY allegations of corruption and poor performance, the Maharashtra government appointed a committee to investigate the multi-crore scam, which submitted its report and recommendations in early 2009. The report is not public yet. When contacted, a committee member, Dr Prafulla Kale, hinted at massive corruption involving influential persons. He also admitted that the investigation itself was fraught with “pressures from various sources”. “We have, however, remained fair and objective. Now, we’re seeing that the money spent is reallocated to the right people,” Kale said.

Officials within the government too admit that the loan waiver and PM package have been largely cosmetic. Sudhir Goyal, Amravati’s divisional commissioner in charge of implementing the relief packages, himself says, “What is the need for a package like this in Vidarbha? Suicides are a symptom of a deeper agrarian crisis. For rain-fed farmers like those in Vidarbha, the main worries are the monsoon and prices. After spending so much on cash crops, farmers find that their costs are higher than their returns. This factor is worse than ever, so how will suicides stop? What’s the point of putting money into schemes that do not address the core issues?” Maharashtra’s Agriculture Minister, Balasaheb Thorat too admits that the packages only provided a brief hiatus, “This year, too, rains have been delayed and I expect that the situation will worsen. We’re ready to tackle this.”

Under the cloud Badly designed, badly executed, the relief package is not reaching the people it is meant for
An RTI revealed that politicians and MLAs benefited most from the cow subsidy scheme

When the PM package was announced, voices from the Planning Commission, the Left parties and agricultural experts warned that it was blind to Vidarbha’s unique issues that have plagued it since the 1970s. The premonition was not off the mark. Wardha-based agriculturist Vijay Jawandia says, “Eighty percent of the farmers were left out of the various packages. Those eligible were short-changed. The schemes showed little understanding of rural India and conventional agricultural practises.” For instance, the loan waiver and several other packages were open only to farmers who own less than five hectares. But in most villages, agricultural land is owned by a whole family, with the title deed in the name of the eldest male member. So though land revenue records show that a farmer owns 15-20 hectares, his actual holding is 4-5 hectares. Yet, he was technically not eligible for any benefits. Similarly, Vidarbha has always practised rain-fed farming and only 11 percent of its farmers have irrigation. Nevertheless, three-quarters of the PM package was earmarked for farmers with existing irrigation projects. “With the three rivers in the area running dry, the rapidly depleting ground water, and scanty rainfall, irrigation is but wishful thinking,” says Kishor Tiwari, president of the Vidarbha Kisan Andolan Samiti.

Dr Prafulla Kale hints at massive corruption in the scheme involving influential people

Meera Kachru Chatale, a widow in Pahapal, narrates how government officials had brought a team to dig a well in her field. “They congratulated me saying my life would change, that my field will glisten with flowing water, that I will be a successful farmer.” Meera’s husband had hung himself in 2005 due to harassment from a moneylender. A local NGO submitted an application on her behalf when the PM package was announced in 2006 and she was found eligible. “They dug fast for two days, then got slower and slower,” says Meera, “In a week, they left, saying water has come.” Meera ran to the field and looked down the newlydug well. It was bone-dry. “There was not a drop of groundwater,” she says, “They were a bunch of liars.”

Over and over, the ill-conceived schemes ended up ignoring the genuinely deprived. A senior secretary in the Maharashtra agricultural department says, “Of the Rs 71,680 crore waiver, Maharashtra’s share was Rs 14,000 crores. The maximum benefit went to the more prosperous and wellirrigated western Maharashtra (Rs 7,000 crores). Vidarbha had to make do with just Rs 2,000 crores.” The very region whose farmer deaths had provoked the government into announcing the enormous packages was given leftovers.

A state survey finds that three in every four cotton growing families is in ‘acute crisis’

2009 is just beginning for Vidarbha’s farmers and already, they’re grappling with loan ultimatums and delayed rainfall. The state government’s own door-to-door survey finds that three in every four cotton farm families is in “acute crisis”. In the five days that TEHELKA travelled in the region, two suicides took place. It is but a gloomy news item for many, but every farmer who takes his own life leaves behind a lurking fear in Vidarbha. Packages may come and go, but as long as the suicides persist, so does the debilitating fear. While straightening the garland on his father’s picture, 20-year-old Gajanand morbidly challenges this reporter to return to Vidarbha a month later to check if he’s still alive. It’s not a threat, he says, but a cry for freedom from the fear.


Maharashtra: 17 farmers commit suicides in five days

NAGPUR: With seven farmers in Vidarbha committing suicide in last two days, the crisis which had seen a lull in last few months has resurfaced. According to Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, which spearheads cotton growers’ cause in the region and also keeps a tab on suicide committed by ryots, the farm suicide toll has reached an alarming 17 in last five days and 671 in the current year.

The farmers who took the desperate route in the last three days have been identified as Maroti Mate of Palasgoan and Jivan Raghtate of Rehaki village ( both from Wardha), Kachruba Meran of Balsamudra and Mahadev Pasode of Vadati in Buldhana, Kailas Solanki of Karanjkhed and Kisan Mahurle of Sonbardi in Yavatmal and Ratan Nagtode of Udapur in Chandrapur district. The other 10 victims in last five days have been identified as Parshuram Jambhulkar, Sukkhdev Pawar, Ashok Chintelwar and Ramesh Tekam of Yavatmal district, Gajanan Sawant, Ananta Bhilange and Vithoba Munde of Buldhana, Gajanan Kavate and Deorao Nimbolkar of Akola, Dadarao Nage of Amravati.

VJAS president Kishore Tiwari informed that when he visited Kisan Mohurale’s house at village Sonbardi in Yavatmal, his paralytic father and widow said the deceased farmer was under huge stress due to mounting debt, cotton crop failure and increasing medical expenses of his family. Most of Sonbardi farmers complained of heavy crop loss and that no one from the district administration had visited to asses the crop damage.

Situation of cotton growers in Western Vidarbha has worsened as the Bt cotton seeds promoted by the state have increased the economic pressure on farmers instead of resulting in higher yields of disease-free crop. Tiwari alleged. He demanded that the government should hike the minimum support price to Rs 6000 a quintal from the present Rs 3300 to save the farmers.

Maharashtra leads in statistic of shame-Farmers sucides

P. SAINATH, The Hindu, Mumbai, October 29, 2011

Share of Big 5 rose to 66.49 % of all farm suicides in 2010
Click here to view/download table on Farm Suicides: All India totals and numbers for five worst-affected States, 1995-2010

The five States with the largest share of the quarter-of-a-million farm suicides recorded in India over the past 16 years are Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

While the total number of farmers who took their own life in 2010 showed a dip from the preceding year, the share of the Big 5, in fact, rose to 66.49 per cent of all farm suicides in 2010. It was 62 per cent in 2009. Three of the Big 5 States have shown significant increases over 2009: Maharashtra (+269), Karnataka (+303), and Andhra Pradesh (+111). Nationally, the last eight years have seen on average, farmers killing themselves at a rate of one every 30 minutes.

In all, 14 of 28 States reported increases in 2010, while four have recorded declines of five or fewer suicides. The dip in 2010 comes with big falls in Chhattisgarh (-676), Tamil Nadu (-519) and Rajasthan (-461) and significant falls in Madhya Pradesh (-158), Puducherry (-150), and Uttar Pradesh (-108). West Bengal and Gujarat also report declines of 61 and 65. But the overall trend remains dismal.

In 1995, the first time the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) tabulated farm suicide data, the Big 5 accounted for 56.04 per cent of all farm suicides . In 2010, despite a one-year decline, they accounted for 66.49 per cent. Maharashtra’s story is alarming. It saw 20,066 farmers kill themselves between 1995 and 2002. That stands dwarfed by the 30,415 farmers who took their lives in the next eight years. The latter period saw an annual average increase of nearly 1,155 such deaths in the State. This was also the period when money was poured into relief ‘packages’ of the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister, through the loan waiver of 2008, and other measures.

During the very decade in which it reigned without break as the worst State to be a farmer in, Maharashtra rose to the first position among the big States in per capita income. Overall at Rs. 74,027, it is behind only much smaller States like Haryana and Goa. The Union Agriculture Minister is from this State and has held that post for six of those 10 years.

Vidarbha cotton growers` convention tomorrow in Yavatmal

Nagpur, Oct 12 (PTI) The Bhartiya Kisan Sabha (BKS), a left wing farmers union along with farm activists and economists will be meeting at Wani in Yavatmal district tomorrow for the Vidarbha Cotton growers’ convention. The meet will be working out a strategy on future agitation as more than three million dry land cotton farmers have already lost cotton crop over two million hectares, said, Kishore Tiwari of Cotton Farmers’ advocacy group Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti, which is supporting the proposed cotton conclave. Atul Anjaan, National Convener Bhartiya Kisan Sabha (BKS) noted economist Shirinivas Khandewale and Shivdas Utane Maharashtra unit president of BKS and Namdeo Gwande, General secretary of Maharashtra BKS along with Tiwari will participate in the convention. Anil Ghate is the convener of this cotton conclave, Tiwari said. Cotton is the biggest cash crop grown in Vidarbha region and in some parts of Marathwada and Khandesh. The price the crop gets decides the fate of three million families in the state which has the largest area under cotton crop in the country. Meanwhile, amid reports that private traders have started buying cotton in open market from farmers at prices ranging between Rs 4000-4500 per quintal, the Maharashtra Cotton Federation has demanded the government to raise the Minimum Support price to Rs 6000 against the current Rs 3300. PTI JOE

New initiative to popularise organic farming Neha Madaan

PUNE: In an initiative implemented by city-based Directorate of Horticulture, around 6,000 hectare of land in the state will be brought under organic farming through 60 projects this year. The initiative aims to increase the area under organic farming by 50,000 hectares, apart from reducing production costs and ensuring good quality produce, free of pesticide residue. The budget earmarked for this is Rs 4.31 crore, which includes cost on components such as vermicompost units, biodynamic compost units, organic farming exhibitions, tours and training, among other things.

According to D G Bakwad, director, horticulture department, growers, who want to delve into organic farming, want premium price for their produce. “We are, therefore, trying to introduce this initiative with two perspectives: Reducing the production cost and increase the product quality. Though farmers try to bring down production cost, the end produce is not purely organic due to the use of both organic and inorganic inputs. The production of organic food has therefore not been consistent,” he said.

He added that producing truly organic food is a highly complex procedure, as the produce has to be certified and the organic inputs required have to be produced on the farm itself, which is a tedious process and requires plenty of labour. “Farmers therefore delve into organic farming only if they are guaranteed premium price for their produce. It is because of the aforementioned reasons that out of the total area under organic farming in the state (7.02 lakh hectares) area that is under certification has come down from 2.77 lakh hectare to 1.5 lakh hectare. Certification itself involves additional expenses, due to which there has not been much stability in organic farming,” he added.

Hence, the initiative. “Earlier, we promoted organic farming by implementing different components to support it; this year however, we changed our implementation strategy. This year, we have implementing this programme on organic farming as a full-fledged project, by bringing about 200 ha under the sway of this initiative in each district of the state, which adds up to 6000 ha in all,” added Bakwad.

It also involves NGO participation, who have been selected to promote the initiative in each district.

Under the programme, Rs 50 lakh have been earmarked for starting vermicomposting units, Rs 1.04 crore for biodynamic compost units, Rs 1 lakh for Cow Pat Pit (CPP) culture unit, and Rs 4.95 lakh for preparation of ‘neem’ powder. The initiative will also have setting up farmers’ groups to undertake organic farming, for which a total of Rs 28.30 lakh have been sanctioned, while Rs 1.01 crore have been allocated for starting organisations that will conduct organic farming workshops. Rs 34 lakh on organising exhibitions, festivals, workshops and seminars on organic farming, Rs 16.60 lakh for tours within the state and Rs 8 lakh for those outside the state, among others allocations, are also part of the initiative.

Maharashtra agriculture minister warns black listing of Mahyco

PUNE: Maharashtra agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said that his government is considering black listing Mahyco company for severe irregularities in sale of seeds, especially the Bt cotton seeds.

The state government has also issued written instructions to big fertiliser companies like RCF, Zuari and Dipak Fertilisers for linking sale of their other agricultural inputs with the fertiliser sale. Mahyco has denied the charges of the agriculture minister.

“Mahyco produces its seeds in this state. Yet there are so many complaints against them from the farmers and the delears. We have already filed an FIR against the company and may even suspend their license to sale seeds in the state and black list the company in Maharashtra,” said Mr Vikhe Patil.

He added, “As against their contractual agreement to sale 16.5 lakh packets of Bt seeds, they have sold only 1.91 lakh packets, which is only 11.40% of their contractual commitment. This is cheating of farmers and the government.”

Mahyco has however denied the charges of the agriculture department. “We have given an undertaking and promised the government of Maharashtra to provide 10.56 lakh packets of various hybrids of Bt cotton seeds for the Kharif 2011 season. As of date Mahyco has supplied 10.77 lakh packets against the agreed quantity in the districts of Maharashtra. The seed supply has exceeded the quantities indicated in the affidavit filed with the department of Agriculture. Hence, there is no breach of undertaking by the company as given to the department of agriculture,” said the company in its reply.

Maharashtra farmers have been facing severe fertiliser and seeds shortage from past two to three years. The common problem is of linking the fertiliser sale with sale of other inputs like seeds, pesticides etc. Thus, if a farmer wants to buy specific seed of specific company, he is compelled to purchase also the other inputs of the same companies.

Mr Vikhe-Patil said, “We have complaints of linking against Zuari Industries , Dipak Fertilisers and RCF. The companies blame it on the dealers. So we have now asked the companies to take actions against the dealers to which they have agreed.”

The agricultural department has already sealed fertilisers worth Rs 24 crore of the Dipak Fertilisers company in Pune. “We have issued stop sale notice to Dipak Fertilisers for the sealed quantity of fertilisers as some of the quantity was meant for linking purpose,” said Mr Vikhe Patil.

Meanwhile, though the farmers have collected inputs after facing much hardships, the state is lagging behind in sowing as compared to the normal sowing schedule.

As against 28% overall sowing excluding sugar cane till June 27, last year, only 9% sowing has been done during the comparable period this year. But 41% talukas, mostly in Vidarbha and Marathwada in the state have received less than 60% rainfall. As a result the sowing of pulses, cotton and soyabean is lagging behind last year’s sowing rate. Maharashtra has highest acreage of cotton and second highest acreage of soyabean and pulses.

Four farmers commit suicide on Maharashtra Day

Pradip Kumar Maitra, Hindustan Times Nagpur, May 02, 2011

Despite the tall claims of the Prithviraj Chavan government that it has succeeded to minimise the farmers’ suicide in Vidarbha, the problem continues unabated in the region. This time four debt-ridden farmers took the extreme step when the state was celebrating its 51st formation day, on May 1. According to reports reaching on Monday, as many as four distressed farmers have ended their lives in different parts of Vidarbha in last 48 hours because of agrarian crisis. Of them, two were from Yavatmal, one of the worst affected districts in the region and one each from Buldhana and Amravati. The victims have identified as: Rajanna Kayapalliwar (45) of Salburdi, Bhaurao Shendur (55), Saikheda (both Yavatmal), Govind Ghule (32), Dhanora (Buldhana) and Budharam Sonwane (76) of Amla in Amravati district. All of them committed suicide by swallowing pesticide, the reports added. Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti that has been documenting the farmers’ suicide in the region claimed that Bhaurao Shendur of Saikheda village was the seventh victims of the village of agrarian crisis. “Hit by crop failure and unable to repay their loans, cultivators, most of them cotton growers, continue to take their own lives,” he said and pointed out that much-hyped relief packages from the union and the state governments even could not prevent it because of wanton corruption in the implementation. The report, prepared by the comptroller and auditor general of India (CAG) even criticised the state and said that there have been serious efficiency lapses in implementation of the relief schemes. Tiwari also blamed poor implementation and lack of co-ordination between the government agencies for the failures. Moreover, grossly inadequate irrigation facilities in the region as well as an erratic monsoon and fluctuating market dynamics have aggravated the crisis, he further pointed out. With the deaths of these four farmers, the toll has risen to 178 this year while the figure was 748 last year. As many as 41 farmers committed suicide in April alone because of agrarian crisis in the region. The well-known agro-economist of the region, Srinivas Khandewale said if the suicides continued at the present rate, the number would hit more than 700 this year. Sanjay Deshmukh, the district collector of Yavatmal, however, claimed that the farmers’ suicide in the region minimized this year because of better crop loan disbursement among farmers. “We have succeeded to disburse around 738-crore crop loans in Yavatmal district alone in 2010-11 season while the target would be around Rs 1000-crore for the district in the current financial year,” he informed. He, however, regretted that the nationalized banks in the area were giving the due operation in the “mission.”

Seeds of strife

Author(s): Latha Jishnu

Issue: Aug 31, 2010

The Seed Bill takes away states’ power to regulate seed prices, could lead to Centre-state confrontation

Photos: Surya Sen

IT WAS yet another meeting in a series that began six years ago.

On July 28, close to 40 members of Parliament and state leaders met in Room 124 of Krishi Bhavan, the Delhi headquarters of the Ministry of Agriculture, in what seemed a last-ditch attempt to thrash out the contested points in a proposed law to regulate the seeds trade. The meeting was called by Minister for Agriculture Shared Pawar, who had put together the first draft of the Seed Bill in 2004, and is set on getting it passed during the current session of Parliament.

The amended Seed Bill, 2004, is a critical piece of legislation and could underpin the success—or failure—of Indian farming. The preamble says the bill aims “to provide for regulating the quality of seeds for sale, import and export and to facilitate production and supply of seeds of quality”, but its stated objective has not found favour with farmers, several state governments and the Left parties. The reason is simple: missing in this law is any mention of price regulation. That is the core issue, although there are other concerns, ranging from the amount and method of compensating farmers who incur losses on account of poor quality seeds to the bill’s conflict with other pieces of legislation.

The July 28 meeting addressed most of the ‘other concerns’, with Pawar listing out the various amendments that the government would incorporate in the amended bill to be presented to Parliament. But on the question of price regulation, the minister was unwilling to budge. A note circulated by the agriculture ministry at the meeting is categorical that the bill does not envisage any “provision for price control” and is intended purely to regulate the quality of seeds. According to several invitees to the meeting, the agriculture minister told them that “the prime minister is against any price control”. This leaves a big question mark hanging over the Seed Bill since opposition to it shows no signs of a let-up.

Leading farmers’ organisations accuse the UPA government of Manmohan Singh of selling out the farmer to multinationals. Krishan Bir Chaudhary, president of the Bharatiya Krishak Samaj, believes the bill “is to protect the interests of multinational seed companies like Monsanto”, which, he insists, are trying to capture the seed market in India. There are other outfits like the All India Kisan Sabha which voice similar worries—and accusations.

Congress-ruled Andhra Pradesh is the biggest opponent of the bill and its agriculture minister N Raghuveera Reddy has been campaigning ceaselessly for significant changes in the proposed law. Reddy, who participated in the July meeting, told Down to Earth that “states must have the power to fix the price of seed and trait value (the royalty paid on patented seeds) whenever necessary.”

As he sees it the system should involve both the Centre and the states. “We would like an independent body similar to CERC (the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission fixes tariffs and other issues related to the power sector), which oversees state regulatory commissions. Otherwise, the seed companies will squeeze the farmer.”

Raghuveera Reddy, who has the full backing of his chief minister K Rosiah, points out, “You simply cannot have a free market without a statutory regulator.”

This is the quandary that the UPA government finds itself in. Not only is the farm lobby and the Left against the bill but so is a major state ruled by the Congress. Andhra Pradesh’s role, in fact, is central to the fight for regulated seed prices in the country. Since 2006, it has been taking on the US biotech giant Monsanto on the trait fees it charges for its genetically engineered cotton seeds (sold as Bollgard and Bollgard II). The state says the trait fees charged by Monsanto’s marketing arm in India, Mahyco Monsanto Biotech (India) Limited, are predatory and monopolistic.

But it is a course that has led to a long legal challenge—and a new state law to control prices. Gujarat and Maharashtra, apart from Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, quickly followed Andhra Pradesh’s example. It was a revolt by the states but the Centre did its best to thwart it by deploying the Essential Commodities Act or ECA strategically (see box: Games the Centre plays).

While this backdrop is essential to understand the politics of the Seed Bill, there is another factor: the differences within the Congress high command on the issue of price regulation. The reser- vations of Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi are said to be instrumental in putting the proposed law in cold storage for the past four years. As chairperson of the National Advisory Committee, Gandhi had, in an October 2005 letter, warned, “There is a growing perception that the Seed Bill, 2004, is anti-farmer and that it favours the seed industry and large seed breeders, including MNCs.

Government has no mechanism to control prices… Seed suppliers are under no obligation to ensure reasonable seed supply to farmers.” That concern, however, has not been addressed in India so far, although elsewhere, notably in the US, the runaway price of seeds is inviting judicial scrutiny. Simultaneously, seeds giant Monsanto, a big player in the Indian market, is also being investigated across seven American states for unfair or deceptive practices (see: Prices under the scanner on p12). Sometime back, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food had warned that the increasing dependence on commercial seed varieties, “controlled by a handful of very powerful multinational companies”, could have a severe impact on small farmers in developing countries.

Farmers will not benefit from new technology if prices are not controlledMany of the recommendations of the Standing Committee of Parliament, which gave its report in 2006, have been incorporated in the 2010 version of the Seed Bill, but price stubbornly stays out of its ambit. The agriculture ministry’s stance is clear. “A free and competitive market environment will spur the growth of the seeds industry. Therefore, price is better left to market forces rather than to artificial controls.”

Noted agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan said: “I hope better counsel will prevail.” Now a member of the Rajya Sabha, Swaminathan, too, has been demanding price regulation in the bill. “I have said there should be price regulation where appropriate, not everywhere. The government should have the authority to use price controls in certain situations, but not to usurp the role of the market.”

The scientist, who is referred to as the Father of India’s Green Revolution, worries that lack of price control could have disastrous consequences for the Indian farmer in accessing new technology. “High seed prices and trait fees,” he warned, “will come in the way of social inclusion on technology access—and social inclusion is fundamental to growth of the sector.”

The government’s point that the earlier law—Seed Control Order, 1983, which the Seed Bill will replace—did not have any provision for price control either is specious, said G V Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad. “It is clear that the government’s objective now is to encourage private trade.”

There are concerns, too, about the opening of other doors to private companies, local and foreign. For instance, Swaminathan and CPI leader D Raja say that seed certification issued by foreign agencies should be recognised only if the seed is tested on Indian soil. However, the ministry argues that Clause 30, which allows the Centre to authorise any foreign certification agency working outside India, is intended to allow global trade in seeds, and would come within the scope of bilateral and multilateral trade agreements.

But Ramanjaneyulu says there is a contradiction on the role of foreign agencies. At one level the ministry has assured the Andhra MPs that their demand that “certification should be carried only by government and semigovernment agencies” would be incorporated in the amendments. Yet, in another instance, it said foreign and foreign- based agencies would be allowed to do so under foreign trade pacts.

“In place of truthful labelling of seed, the government is making certification compulsory, but this is geared to letting in private and foreign seed certification agencies into the business,” pointed out Ramanjaneyulu, former ICAR scientist. Besides, it would also permit multi-location trials to be carried out by private agencies on foreign soil. The ministry’s justification is that seed imported into India would be subjected to multi-location trials under the rules to be framed under the seed Act.

As for that most vexing issue of compensation to farmers in case of seed failure, an issue that exercises most critics of the bill, the ministry says the quantum of compensation and the mechanism to recover it will also be prescribed under the rules.

The demand for “a role for panchayats, state and district level committees can be considered at that stage,” according to the official note. Have the opponents of the bill been assuaged by such promises? Raghuveera Reddy, for one, is mobilising more support from the states. Last week, he wrote to all state agriculture ministers inviting them to Hyderabad for talks. “We should rise to the challenge since our farmers’ interests are at stake. I have also asked them to mobilise opinion among their MPs and political leaders.”

Whether this seasoned campaigner succeeds in getting like-minded states on board—like he did on the BT cotton issue in 2006—or not, Pawar and the Centre know that the battle could turn bitter. Agriculture is a state subject, and the passage of the bill, which would repeal all other seed laws, including the applicability of ECA and the special ordinances passed by state governments on price regulation, is bound to ruffle constitutional feathers.

In the latest memorandum sent to the prime minister and the agriculture minister, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister has demanded the inclusion of a separate chapter on seed pricing and royalty fees which would give equal powers to the states and the central government. He has also detailed the mechanism for this procedure.

In a telling remark, Andhra Pradesh points out that the power to fix royalty rates is available with member-states of WTO under its TRIPS Agreement on intellectual property issues. It remains to be seen if the Centre can be persuaded by such arguments.

More than one lakh farmers attempted suicide in vidarbha since 2004 :VJAS reveals the shocking truth of Vidarbha Agrarian Crisis

Nagpur-4th April 2010

After high court Mumbai nagpur bench asked maharashtra administration to do the professional door to door of all 2 million farm familiesin February 2006 and asked them to host it on website specially updating the data of vidarbha farmers suicides ,it was then first time the world has been told that more than fourteen lakhs (14,00,000) farm families of west vidarbha are distress and out of which three lakhs forty-five families are in deep distress and acute despair and on the threshold of killing themselves but after the survey nobody tracked the dying cotton farmers families reported by in deep distress by state administration and now survey done by vidarbha Janandolan Samiti(VJAS) shows that since 2004 one lakh two thousand eight hundred thirty four cases of farmers’ of family members of west vidarbha cotton farmer attempted suicide has been reported in various hospital that include Govt. medical college, district hospital, sub district hospital, cottage and rural hospital and primary health’s centers(PHCs) our of which 7359 farmers were unfortunate as they were not saved ,here is shocking data of suicide spiral of vidarbha since 2004

Year Number of attempts of farm suicides in vidarbha Number of farmers reported killed in these attempts
2004 1824 456
2005 3300 660
2006 22,632 1886
2007 21,784 1556
2008 25,200 1680
2009 21,984 916
2010 6150 205
total 102874 7359

VJAS President kishor tiwari claimed that actual number of farmers and farmers family members are more as high numbers of attempted suicides of ladies members and girls are not even reported are more over there hundred of cases of lady farmers suicides in which they died that is also not being reported and administration is not taking them in to consideration.

“the vidarbha agrarian crisis has been too serious to look at it in one direction this is complete economic-social failure of the system that needs to be rectified from the bottom. our attempt is only to show the gravity of ground level now it is for the administration to throw light on the fact and reveal the official data to the world .it’s high time for Govt. and civil society to act in order save millions innocent west vidarbha farmers who are victims of wrong policies of economic reforms, cultivation practices and unbalanced economic growth exposing material world and uncontrolled grid .we have demanding integrated programme for socio-economic system restoration in west vidarbha but nobody is even ready to pay attention to it ”Tiwari added.

State Govt. declared drought in 15460 villages in vidarbha due to complete crop failure and declared relief measures on paper hence VJAS urged Indian Govt.’s intervention in vidarbha agrarian crisis to address the dying farmers and to provide free health care, food security, rural employment, fodder to save dying cattle ,drinking water to rural masses and cattle on priority basis so that prevailing acute distress can be minimize and farmers suicides can be controlled ,Tiwari said.

‘we are demanding to the local and central Govt. that to stop this mass genocide of innocent farmers who are victims of wrong policies promoted by state as in dry land area rain sensitive crop like Bt.cotton is being cultivated in more than 95% causing huge fibancial losses to the cotton farmers and water crisis in the area. We have demanding the ban on rain sensitive crop in this region and promotion of food crop in all rain fed area of vidarbha since 2004 but nobody is giving any attention to this serious demand resulting more and more farm suicides in the region ‘ Tiwari added.

16 Vidarbha farmers suicides in a week – VJAS urged for Smt.Sonia Gandhi to save vidarbha farmers

Nagpur-15th march 2010

Unseasonable rains in the last two-three days in the region for vidarbha growers, these have proved to be extremely detrimental as four more farmers suicides reported in last 48 hours taking toll to 16 farm suicides in a week include one women farmer in the on going agrarian crisis in the region which has shown impact of despair and extreme distress forced over 2 million farm families as per official survey, informed Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan andolan Samiti (VJAS) in press note .

“In a letter to UPA convener smt.sonia GandhiIndia VJAS has drawn attention toward the fact regarding seriousness of agrarian crises in India that has claimed more than 2,16,000 farmers killed themselves in Maharashtra since 1997 as official figure of Govt. of India and majority of farmers are from dry land region south west India,this year there is severe crop failure due to drought in Maharashtra as more than 20000 villages have officially declared drought hit by Maharashtra Govt and despair in amounting to suicide due to apathy of administration toward the crisis ” Tiwari added.

16 vidarbha farmers who committed suicides in this week are

1.Gunwant Raut of Dhotra inWashim

2.Vithal Lende of Bishur in nagpur

3,Amol Matharmare of Mahatoli In Yavatmal

4.Kisan Patil of Katpur In Amaravati

5.Sandeepzole of Pahur In Yavatmal

6.Purshottam Dewase of Kakada In Wardha

7.Ankush Narayan Thakray of Nimtalai in Nagpur

8.Suryakant Ganpat Gokare of Aadkoli in Yavatmal

9.Satish Keshav Dhote of Bhabulgoan in Yavatmal

10.Smt.Vimal Abhiman Kowe of Zuli In Yavatmal.

11.Santosh Janardhan Bhisale of Koyali In Washim

12.Prahald Nimba Rathode of Mahagoan in Yavatmal

13.Raobhan Raoji Surpam of Morwa In Yavatmal

14.Praka Bhaukade of Udi In Akola .

15.Balaji Paikine 0f Marsud In Yavatmal

16.Prahal Gawande of Bhadkad In Akola

As per administration reports these drought hit 15460 villages in vidarbha facing the problem of water ,fodder ,food and employment but till date any single district administration has not started any relief work resulting migration of thousands farmers for the want of work .ground condition is worst than June-2006 and now it’s time for Indian intervention to solve vidarbha agrarian crisis as all relief package failed to give any result we demand to provide free health care, food security, rural employment , fodder to save dying cattle ,drinking water to rural masses and cattle on priority basis so that prevailing acute distress can be minimize and farmers suicides can be controlled ,Tiwari said.