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March 05, 2016

Maharashtra Cabinet on Disaster tour to curb farmers' suicide

The government of Maharashtra has finally woken up to the agrarian crisis that has, according to official statistics, already ensnared the lives of 124 farmers in the state in the first 45 days of the year. Awoken, the government has decided to take action. And, the action that the government has decided to take is to send its Council of Ministers on a tour of three of the worst hit districts: Beed, Osmanabad, and Latur.
Anyone who knows anything about the farmer suicides and the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra, actually, any sensible person anywhere, would be flummoxed at the absurdity of the plan of action. But, not the Maharashtra government. Nothing can faze these leaders. There is no flummoxing them.
It would have been useful, however, for the government to inform us lesser mortals, how this tour, with ostensible goal of assessing how drought relief measures are operating on the ground, will stem the continuous spurt of suicides. Disaster tourism and poverty porn are real. But, since when did they become solutions?
The government’s own data is showing how none of its measures are working on the ground. Had this not been the case, 3,228 farmers would not have ended their lives in 2015 and made the state top the ignominious list of farmer suicide states in the world’s largest democracy.
The Council of Ministers does not need to leave its comfortable cushions in Mumbai to learn that its measures are not working on the ground. All the Ministers need to do is look at the data closer. The clue to the abject failure of the measures is found in breakup of the data of the 3,228 farm suicides in 2015.
Of the 3,228 suicides last year, 903 were found ineligible for government aid, while 1,841 were found eligible, i.e. caused by agrarian factors, in the government’s view. That still leaves 484 cases, which are still pending inquiry.
Is a government that still cannot find out if 484 farmer suicides are related to the agrarian crisis or not capable of preventing those living in distress from killing themselves? Our public institutions cannot even respond properly and categorize those who died last year. What can they do for those living on the edge? And, while the great big hole in the form of corrupt and inept institutions only grows bigger, the Cabinet has embarked on its disaster tour.
And what if the Cabinet is forced to confess that the drought relief measures are indeed dysfunctional? Does the Council have any blueprint to fix this problem and put in place a system that does function under its authority?
Even before the summer settles in, the region of Marathwada is reeling with just 6% water available, against 18% last year. Add to this the hailstorms and unseasonal rains that have badly affected standing crops last fortnight. In such a situation, the government could have rushed the village officials to the farmers for timely estimation of losses and disbursal of compensation. The Cabinet is instead conducting its tour.
One can be reasonably certain that it is humanly impossible for the ministers to attend individually to each and every farmer in distress. What would the Council of Ministers do during this tour then? Arrive, make recommendations, and return to business as usual? For, this is exactly what Ministers have done repeatedly, for two decades since the crisis became too obvious to ignore.
Arresting farm suicides is impossible without making dysfunctional public institutions work by radically restructuring them. When it comes to agriculture, the system already possesses required officials from the capital, in the form of the Agricultural Secretary, right down to the last villages, in the form of village development officers, revenue clerks. But, while they have always been there, most of them have been known to be notoriously corrupt, extracting bribes to be distributed from bottom to top, even for issuing a death certificate, on which all other compensation depends! Till the Cabinet has the political will to dismantle this obnoxious nexus and work for the farmers, curbing suicides will remain impossible.

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