Jolted by reports of 22 farmer suicides in three weeks driven by massive crop failure, the Maharashtra government today appealed to farmers “not to take emotional steps” and wait for relief measures.
“I assure all my farmer brethren that we stand solidly behind you. I request that please don’t be carried away by emotions or helplessness. We are doing our best to help you,” said Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who has faced political attacks for not doing enough for farmers devastated by crop loss.
Mr Chavan also said he had spoken to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Election Commission, amid questions about whether a relief package just ahead of the national election would be considered a violation of the code of conduct.
The election code of conduct bans parties from making any announcement that can influence voters.
The Chief Minister’s appeal is significant after recent threats by farmers in Vidarbha to use the “None Of The Above” option while casting their votes in next month’s election, if they don’t receive help soon.
The Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, a farmers’ advocacy group, has said in a report that 22 farmers have ended their lives in the Vidarbha and Marathawada regions, in the past three weeks. Nine of these deaths took place in just the past three days, after a prolonged and unusual hailstorm destroyed acres of crops, the group says.
The Maharashtra government has not confirmed these grim statistics, but has asked for Rs. 5,000 crore from the Centre.
Activists say the process of receiving any relief involves a report from the state government, followed by a spot assessment by a central team before any money is sanctioned.
It is too long, they say, and even this amount may not be enough to compensate for the loss of crop spread over at least 16 lakh hectares.
Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region is often described as ‘suicide country’ with reports of a farmer suicide every eight hours even till two years ago.
Ahead of next month’s general election, the tragic deaths have fueled a political blame-game. The opposition Shiv Sena has alleged that the Congress and NCP, which co-govern Maharashtra and are allies at the Centre, are using the election code of conduct as an excuse for inaction.
“I blame the system. Should we talk of rules when people are dying?” said the Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut.