Farmers’ suicide row: FIR registered against Sonia, Pawar

Zeenews Bureau

Akola, Sept 18: The issue of farmers’ suicide in Maharashtra has taken an ugly turn as a debt-ridden farmer from Akola has reportedly filed cases against 15 high profile persons including UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar.
According to reports, the farmer, Dilip Ghatole, has held Sonia Gandhi and 15 others responsible for formulating such policies which led to the untimely and tragic death of his father Shaligram Ghatole.
Shaligram, a cotton farmer, ended his life in October 2007, as he could not repay his loans.
While moving a petition in the Akola district court, the petitioner said that the present UPA government was responsible for his father’s death.
Ghatole’s lawyer Prakash Ambedkar said that a large section of farmers were suffering due to the government’s import policy, which prevents them from getting a good price for their cotton.
Dilip and his mother Kaushalyabai are facing extreme hardship in meeting the day-to-day requirements of their family, as Shaligram Ghatole left behind a crushing debt of over Rs one lakh.
However, the opposition lawyer, who seems to be less worried over the petition, says that the government policy cannot be challenged in this court. It has to be raised in Parliament or in the Supreme Court.
The next hearing of the case is on September 26.

23 farmers seek Prez permission to end lives

17 Sep 2008, 0230 hrs IST, Proshun Chakraborty,TNN

WANI: For the distressed farmers of Yavatmal in Maharashtra, the reasons driving them to suicide have been crop failure and crippling debts. There is another now: pollution by state-owned coal mines.
The spraying of coal dust on the fields by the hundreds of trucks rolling out of Coal India Ltd’s Western Coal Fields has severely hit farmers in the region.
Farmers say the coal dust from the open mines settle on the top soil and on crops jeopardising farming. As many as 23 farmers of Pinpalgaon, Junad and Brahmani in Wani, about 130km from Nagpur, have now written to President Pratibha Patil saying they want her “permission to end our lives”.
“The open mines of WCL in Wani shower heaps of ash on our farms. The flow of water too is restricted because of these heaps. There have been heavy crop losses,” says Balu Pundalik Khamankar, former sarpanch of Brahmani village and a farmer.
As many as seven farmers have killed themselves in Vidarbha region in the last month alone.

Jadhav is running a rent-a-report service: Sainath

After PM’s advisor Naresh Jadhav attacked Magasaysay-winning journalist over his report on Vidarbha farmers, P Sainath retaliates with an equally vitriolic counter attack

Posted On Sunday, September 14, 2008

Deepak Lokhande

Picking up the gauntlet thrown by the PM’s economic advisor and Pune University vice-chancellor Naresh Jadhav, Magasaysay award-winning journalist P Sainath on Saturday tore into him for his claims that the farmers’ plight in Vidarbha is not as bad as it has been made out and said that the V-C was running a ‘rent-a-report’ service for the state government.
As head of the one-man committee appointed by the state government to study the benefits of the Prime Minister’s relief package for Vidarbha farmers, Jadhav had said in his report that Sainath was painting an alarmist picture of Vidarbha and had ‘defamed’ the state by doing so.
Speaking to Mumbai Mirror from Norway, where he is attending an international conference, Sainath didn’t mince words, saying Jadhav’s report was just a ‘whitewash job for the state government’.
“How can criticising a state government mean criticism of the state,” said Sainath, the author of Everyone Loves A Good Drought who had described Maharashtra as a ‘graveyard for farmers’.
“He is running a rent-a-report service. His report is nothing but a whitewash job for the state government. He says Maharashtra is not the worst state, but only the fourth or fifth worst state in the country as far as farmers’ suicides are concerned. He is like a child who tells his father that he is not the last in the class, but fourth or fifth last,” said Sainath.
“Maharashtra is the only state where farmers are addressing their suicide notes to the CM and the PM. In Andhra, they wrote about policies, banks, moneylenders and others, but not the government. Here, they are telling the government we are killing ourselves because of you,” he said.
“In Maharashtra, we are putting our farmers in the pressure cooker and cooking them. And our CM says and I quote, ‘farmers should be grateful I am not prosecuting them as suicide is a crime’,” he added.
The veteran journalist added that contrary to Jadhav’s claims, the Maharashtra government had failed on every parameter, especially under Vilasrao Deshmukh’s leadership. Jadhav had claimed in his report that Sainath had used wrong parameters to

indict the state government.
“The National Crime Records Bureau statistics show that one-fifth of 1.66 lakh farmers’ suicides between 1997 and 2005 were in Maharashtra. Is this figure something to be proud of?” Sainath asked, adding that the farmers’ plight in Vidarbha was the worst in 2006, a year after the prime minister and the chief minister announced separate relief packages.
“The year witnessed the highest ever number of farmers committing suicides since we started keeping records. Of the 17,060 farmers who committed suicides in the country, 4,453 were from the state, which is almost one-fourth. These figures are never rivalled by any other state. The closest figure was in 2004 – around 4,100 ― and guess which state it was? Maharashtra, sadly,” he pointed out.
Countering Jadhav’s claims that Sainath chose wrong states (with less population to compare with Maharashtra), the journalist said even the population parameter didn’t save any grace for the state.
“The increase in the number of suicides (527) in 2006 was four-and-half-times that of Andhra Pradesh that recorded 117 more suicides than in 2005. Is Andhra four-and-half-times more populous than Maharashtra?” he asked.
“It’s amazing that after committee after committee found the situation in Vidarbha grave, Jadhav absolved the government. “The reports by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Indira Gandhi Institute for of Developmental Studies, the Planning Commission, NABARD team, state investigators have been more adverse than the previous.
And whatever the parameters or ratings, 34,000 farmers committing suicides…is this something to be proud of?” he asked.
Pained that he was being painted as enemy of the state, Sainath said that if that was what he would get for telling the truth, then he wore it like a badge of honour.
Jadhav could not be contacted for his comments despite repeated attempts.

CM orders probe into Vidarbha scam

14 Sep 2008, 0302 hrs IST, Prafulla Marpakwar,TNN

MUMBAI: Embarrassed by the facts revealed by the RTI query, chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh on Saturday ordered a high-level inquiry into the multi-crore scam in the PM’s and CM’s relief package meant to help poor and bereaved families of farmers who committed suicide in the Vidarbha region.
Gopal Reddy, the director of the V P Naik Mission for Farmers, will be in charge of the probe. “Deshmukh has asked for a comprehensive information on the beneficiaries of the special package for the entire Vidarbha region. Once we get the details, we will decide on the course of action to be taken against those who have wrongfully helped themselves to the relief measures,” a top official told TOI.
Yavatmal-based activist Vilas Wankhede on Friday alleged that while selecting beneficiaries for the package, there was blatant violation of rules, as a result of which, cattle was distributed among non-eligible, well-off people, including prominent politicians from the district, home town of the new MPCC president, Manikrao Thakre.
A month ago, when Wankhede had submitted an application under the RTI Act, he was told that relatives of former MP Uttamrao Patil, former minister Shivajirao Moghe, Digras legislator Sanjay Deshmukh and cattle supplier Amol Kshirsagar were provided with cows though they were not eligible for it.
According to the state government and PMO rule, only families of farmers who had killed themselves and BPL residents of the region are eligible for assistance under the multi-crore relief package. A preliminary probe revealed that the cattle was distributed during the tenure of Harshadeep Kamble, who was then the collector of Yavatmal.
According to the guidelines, the beneficiaries are selected by a four-member committee, which is headed by the collector. All applications for assistance under the relief package are presented before the panel by tehsildars or revenue officials and after scrutiny, the committee selects the beneficiaries. “From the RTI data, it appears that the committee did not verify the credentials of the applicants,” the official said.
“Prima facie, it appears that there was lack of seriousness among the babus posted in the Vidarbha region. As a result, despite adequate budgetary provision and special economic packages, the results were not visible,” a senior Congress minister from Vidarbha said.
He added that the bureaucrats had successfully failed all efforts made by the chief minister to tackle the agrarian crisis.
“No officer wants to complete his tenure in any of the Vidarbha districts. Unfortunately, Deshmukh had taken a very lenient view of the casual approach of the bureaucrats. Now we will have to take stern action against the erring officials or else we will have to pay a heavy price during the coming elections,” the minister said.

Four Vidharbha farmers kill themselves on their biggest day of the year

Indo Asian News ServiceMon, Sep 1 12:30 PM

Nagpur, Sep 1 (IANS) Four debt-trapped Vidarbha farmers ended their lives last weekend on the day of Pola – the year’s biggest religious festival for farmers in Maharashtra, according to reports received here Monday.

The farmers were anguished by their inability to celebrate Pola in even a symbolic manner, said the reports, reviving sad memories of the Pola day two years ago, when two farmers had committed suicide.

The four suicides this weekend were reported from Soneri village of Amravati district, Muktapur of Nagpur district and Pendhri and Kona of Yavatmal district on the day farmers in the region worship their bullocks with great gusto and rejoice in the midst of the emerging kharif harvest.

Five more debt-trapped farmers in this region had killed themselves just a day before that, already casting a pall of gloom on the festival despite the central government’s unprecedented Rs.710 billion farm loan waiver.

While a tragic story hangs by each suicide, that of 32-year old Rajesh Wange of Soneri village is most striking. Owner of a seven-acres farm, three of them irrigated, Rajesh had taken a loan of Rs.51,000 from a credit cooperative society which he could not repay. He needed more money as everything had been spent on re-sowing and repeated farming operations necessitated by a 45-day-long dry spell. On top of it, his soyabean crop suffered severe damage due to an attack of spodoptera pest (army worm).

Rajesh drank poison at home Saturday afternoon while his family had joined the rest of the village right in front of his house, with their bedecked bullocks ready for the Pola show. Coming to know of the suicide, the villagers abandoned the festivities.

Villagers of Muktapur in Nagpur district also abandoned their Pola as one of them, Pramod Chowre, committed suicide even as the celebrations there were about to reach a crescendo.

Shamrao Kumre, 37, of Pendhri village and Vitthal Upre, 30, of Kona village in Yavatmal district were the two others to cut short their lives on the day of the farmers’ signature festival.

The five farmers who committed suicide a day earlier were Sanjay Gond of Ibrahimpur and Shamrao Waghmare of Sawargaon in Buldana district, Devidas Petkar and Tulsiram Nagose respectively of village Wadha and Chora in Chandrapur district and Narsinglu Rukmawar of village Mandvi in Yavatmal district.

The suicides of Gangaram Meshram and Anil Shende of Yavatmal district on Pola day in 2006 had stirred the conscience of the country.

That was the year that saw the maximum number of suicides in Vidarbha and elsewhere mocking the Rs.37.50 billion relief package of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. That year, cotton, the region’s main cash crop, fetched a record low price of Rs.1,700 per quintal.

In 2008, while a whopping Rs.170 billion loan waiver has been announced, only a small proportion has so far been disbursed as the cooperative banks are facing a cash crunch. The ongoing monsoon in the region has been punctured by two dry spells – one that lasted 45 days in June-July followed by another, which is still on, with a brief spell of rainfall in between.

The vagary has been compounded by an unprecedented attack of the spodoptera pest that damaged standing crops spread over at least 150,000 hectares.

Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti leader Kishor Tiwari told IANS he apprehended more suicides in the days to come as enough funds were not being provided for loan disbursal and the farmers hit by the army worm attack were not being bailed out quickly enough.

Vidharbha in flames…

A local legislator attempted suicide in the legislative assembly, frustrated by all other methods to alert the state to the farmers suicides
In Vidarbha, Maharashtra
It was time for a reality check. In the safe confines of the legislative assembly, Maharashtra’s politicians witnessed a dose of the real world last week. Gulabrao Gavande, a Shiv Sena legislator, wanted them to wake up to the daily tragedy of the Vidarbha countryside. So, he rushed to the floor of the assembly and poured a bottle of kerosene on himself. Then, he opened a bottle of pesticide and was about to swallow it when other legislators rushed to stop him. Gavande was banned from attending the rest of the session.
His recklessness could have set the entire house on fire – literally. But his shocking suicide attempt ignited a fiery debate about the government’s neglect of the agricultural crisis in the underdeveloped Vidarbha region of eastern Maharashtra. Farmers’ suicides are on the rise. Everyday, a few more deaths are reported in local newspapers. But so far the state has not addressed this alarming tragedy. A defensive chief minister promised to announce a ‘package’ for Vidarbha’s farmers, but was not willing to say anything more. The opposition too has no creative solutions to offer. Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray rushed to Vidarbha and assured farmers his party’s muscle power to bash up moneylenders and bank officials who harass them.
Meanwhile, in his hospital bed, a visibly shaken Gavande told Frontline, “I don’t know what I was thinking when I did this. I’m very troubled seeing so many people kill themselves. Morchas and protests have had no effect on the government. I wanted to awaken the administration to this crisis.”
Gavande, a local MLA from Akola (and also a wrestler), has been brawling with powerful moneylenders who have been snatching land from farmers. “Moneylenders are taking advantage of people’s desperation. They won’t lend until the farmer signs a document handing over land ownership to them. Then, when the farmer can’t repay they take possession of the land. So farmers land worth Rs two lakh for a Rs 20,000 loan. Moneylenders have captured around 5000 acres of land in this way,” explains Gavande.
A son of the soil, Gavande uses the methods he knows best. “Only I have the strength to fight these thugs because I am a wrestler and have an akhada with me,” he smiles. “I told the villagers not to spare anyone who harasses them. Recently, when a moneylender told one farmer to sell his daughter but pay back the loan, the villagers of Dadham got together and flogged him to death.” In the last few months, the government has cracked down on moneylenders, arresting several of them. But that has also led to more distress since they are the only source of funds available to farmers. Since most of them have defaulted on bank loans, that option is not open to them anymore.
Mounting debts are just a symptom of the crisis in agriculture. The crux of the problem is profitability, not only for the cotton crop, but also for others like oranges, soya, wheat, jowar, chillies or paddy. “The prices of all products have risen dramatically over the years. Our input costs have also shot up. But for the last 10 years, the price we get for our crop has remained the same,” says Jitendra Tatte, a large cotton and orange farmer from Lehegaon in Amravati. Input costs for his 60-acre farm have drowned him in debt. The more he cultivates the more his losses. “Everyone is in the same distress. Some have committed suicide. The rest of us live in agony.”

At a cotton farm

Photo: Dionne Bunsha

Tatte rattles off several statistics to prove his point. “In the last ten years, the price of soya oil has increased from Rs 25 per litre to Rs 45. But have been selling soyabean at the same price of Rs 900 per quintal since then. How do you expect us to survive?” he asks. “Why doesn’t inflation apply to our produce? Why do farmers have to starve so that the rest of the country gets cheap food?”
This season, the Maharashtra government has accentuated their dilemma further by reducing the price at which it will procure cotton from approx. Rs 2,200 per quintal to Rs 1,700. The cost of cotton cultivation is Rs 2,200 per quintal, not including the farmer’s own labour and other expenses like bank interest. If the price falls, farmers will suffer major losses of Rs 500 per quintal, no matter how much they produce. This will lead to more distress and more suicides.
At a public meeting in Nagpur recently, deputy chief minister R.R. Patil justified this price fall by arguing, “Last year, the state suffered Rs 1,800 crore losses due to the procurement scheme. Yet, suicides were the highest. This means the money is not going to farmers, but to agents. We will find other ways to make sure the funds reach those who need it.”
“Reducing the price is not going to solve the glitches in the procurement system,” says Vijay Javandhia, farmers activist. “If the government is really interested in making the scheme work for farmers, they should pay the amount up front to farmers, not in installments, that too over a period of one year. And, they should stop deducting loan collections from the payments. Leave it to the banks to recover their loans.”
The procurement scheme is in the red because the international prices of cotton have fallen. Cultivators in western countries receive huge subsidies from their government. They can afford to sell their produce at much lower prices. The Indian government could protect its producers from imports and crashing international prices by hiking the import duty on cotton. At present, it is only 10 per cent, import duty on other products like sugar (60%), rice (80%) and second hand cars (180%) are much higher. “The government is willing to protect sugar farmers and foreign car manufacturers here but not cotton farmers,” says Javandhia.
Maharashtra’s 30 lakh cotton farmers are being told to innovate and diversify. But innovations only increase the burden of debt. And interest is high. Banks charge 12%. But interest for consumer loans are only 7% and a mere 4% to start a sugar factory. Moneylenders, now the main source of credit, charge between 60% to 120%. And, you risk losing your land.
Farm improvements cost Sudhir Tatte his life. He spent more than two lakhs rupees sinking tube wells and installing sprinklers and drip irrigation on his orange orchards and cotton fields in Lehegaon. But nothing seemed to work. The water table had fallen. Finally, he swallowed poison and killed himself in 1998. Seven years later, his family is still burdened by debt. They have given up on agriculture and leased out the fields to others.
Bt cotton is also being promoted as the solution. It costs around 12 times more than other seeds, and has failed to deliver results. “The dealer assured me that I would get 19 quintals per acre from Bt cotton. Not only were the seeds expensive but I also had to spray pesticide. Yet, I got the usual two or three quintals, but I spent so much more. I’m totally ruined,” said Surendra Zane, a farmer in Lehegaon.
“What other crops can we grow?” asks Jitendra Tatte. “The prices of all crops have remained stagnant. We have even experimented with growing herbs, but there is no market to sell them. Moreover, our choice is restricted to only a few crops since we don’t have irrigation.” Only 10 per cent of Vidarbha’s farmland ha
s irrigation. It is difficult to even promote dairy farming as an alternative since it is too dry to grow fodder for livestock.
The chief minister is expected to announce the usual stop gap measures – loan or interest waivers, free power, compensation for families of suicide victims. But these are just band aids. The real issue of pricing and profitability has to be tackled to stop peasants from sliding down further. “Mine will be the last generation of farmers. I don’t want my son to be a farmer and suffer the way I have,” says Jitendra Tatte.
As Vijay Javandhia puts it, “In my next life, I would rather be a cow in Europe than a farmer in India. There, they get two dollars subsidy per day to feed their cattle. Here, our farmers slog in the fields and don’t even get one dollar.”
A Fate Worse Than Death
It seemed like a normal meagre meal for Dharmi Rathod when suddenly her husband Ramesh started vomiting. He had barely eaten anything. He was choking on the pesticide he swallowed. His friends rushed him to hospital, but he died there on 10th November 2005. Dharmi was left stunned… and without a single paisa with her.
Her village Bongavan in Yavatmal collected money for his funeral. They helped her with food and money. One month later, Dharmi is still reeling from the shock. “I have no idea how much he owed and how many loans he had taken. All I know is that the day before he died, bank officials had come to our hut.” For the last month, the trauma has taken its toll on Dharmi. She is constantly ill and has visited the hospital thrice.

Dharmi Rathod with her children

Photo: Dionne Bunsha

How does Dharmi manage to look after herself and her two children? “My son works as a farm hand every weekend. From that money, we go to the market,” she says. Even when Ramesh was alive, Dharmi and Ramesh both worked as farm labour earning Rs 20 and Rs 40 per day respectively. They could not survive only by tilling their four acre farm. This season, it will yield less than a quintal of cotton. And, Dharmi doesn’t know the first thing about managing a farm. Unable to cope, she has called her relatives to help her sort out her life.
Ramesh seems to have left Dharmi with a fate worse than death.
Frontline, Dec. 17 – 30, 2005 href=””> Also available here

Posted by DionneBunsha at 3/31/2007 05:11:00 PM

Vidarbha farmer suicides highest in march

Despite CM’s claim that suicide rates were going down, 95 farmers ended their lives last month

2007 March-95, February-88, January-70 
2006 July-90, August-111, Sept-125, Oct-112, Nov-107, Dec-105

Nagpur April 1st 2007
WITH EVERY passing month this year, more farmers are killing themselves in Vidarbha – belying Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s claims that the suicide rate has decreased.
With four more farmers ending their lives in the last 24 hours, the suicide figure in the region has touched 95 this month. It was 88 and 70 in February and January respectively .
According to reports reaching here on Saturday evening, one farmer each committed suicide from Nagpur, Bhan dara, Wardha and Gadchiroli.
The victims were identified as Prakash Dadaji Nimborkar of Kharpundi (Gadchiroli), Bhushan Haribhau Dhote, Rampuri (Bhandara), Avinash Lendare of Takli-Darne (Wardha) and Harish Madhukar Thote of Inderwada village in Nagpur district.
Deshmukh had claimed early this month that there had been a sharp decline in suicide cases due to swift packages for farmers and disbursal of more loans in the region.
“Any death in Vidarbha, for any reason, is dubbed as suicide, with the media claiming suicides are rising. Unfor tunately, the picture being painted is that nothing (suicide rate) is coming under control,” the chief minister had said.
Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti chief Kishore Tiwari believes the CM is not aware of the ground reality.
“He does not know how officials of cotton marketing federation have been ruthlessly deducting over 50 per cent of money cotton growers make to adjust the loans. How will the farmers survive the whole year with this meagre money and start farming afresh in the ensuing kharif season?” Tiwari asked, reiterating that relief packages had not helped the crisis-ridden farmers.
Tiwari said 80 per cent farmers would not get the loans in the coming kharif season because of failure to repay the earlier amount by the deadline. The government has fixed a deadline of June 30 to repay the amount.
Meanwhile, Sudhir Goel, divisional commissioner of Amravati, admitted that only 25 per cent of the 10-lakh beneficiaries would be able to repay the loans. “If they fail to repay the amount by the deadline, they will not get the loan benefits,” Goel told Hindustan Times.