Suicides by at least 20 farmers in six weeks mock the Krishi Karman award trophies that Madhya Pradesh has won for three consecutive years for maximum wheat production.
Though the state has started relief work since 7 April in 36 districts which have reported damage to crops in 3.63 lakh hectares of area under Rabi cultivation reports of farmers’ distress continue to pour in at capital Bhopal. Half the deaths have occurred in the more fertile Nimar-Malwa region and at least five in the Chambal region.
State governments don’t often own up to suicides for obvious political reason. Madhya Pradesh is no exception. It did half-heartedly admit the losses were heavy and Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan offered to help the farmers sell their damaged produce at a reasonable price.
But his ministers and officials refused to oblige. This is one of the main causes of their distress.
In Vidisha, the constituency of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, a farmer died at the procurement centre after waiting for three days for his produce to be purchased by officials. While these deaths continue to haunt the villages the government’s enthusiasm to promise land to the industrialists is undiminished.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who handed the Krishi Karman award to the state representatives in February called the state’s achievement as miraculous. Miraculous it certainly is as the statistics continue to confound farm experts.
During the run up to the general elections last year, unseasonal rain and hail storms hit more than 45 out the state’s 51 districts and Chouhan had demanded Rs 5000 crore from the then UPA government at the Centre. This did not stop the government from making a claim for the highest production of wheat.
Interestingly, after the change of the government at the Centre, the state government didn’t press for the centre’s aid package. Chouhan, who had even threatened to stage a dharna against the UPA-led Centre, refuses to accept the Congress challenge to do it now. The NDA government has also stopped the state from paying bonus to the farmers.
In 2008, the state’s wheat contribution to the central pool was 50,000 tonnes; in 2011, it went up to 47 lakh tonnes. In 2012, government agencies expected the yield to be 18 quintal per acre, but the farmers hit the 26-quintal mark, an impressive 30 percent more. The success saga was too good to be true.
If these figures were genuine, why were 1090 farmers forced to commit suicide in 2013? It now appears the agricultural growth story is riddled with tales of corruption and fudged figures.
Nearly three years ago a state-sponsored advertisement claimed the procurement bonus during the Congress rule in 1993-2003 was Rs 21 crore. It rose over 86 times to Rs 1,820 crore in 2012 under BJP. Farmers from neighbouring states like Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are bringing in their produce to the Madhya Pradesh markets, lured by the bonus of Rs 140 to 150 per quintal over the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
Outsiders bribe their way through the system to transport grains from nearby states. Madhya Pradesh relies on a completely computerised “e-procurement” system — from registration of farmers to depositing payments in their bank accounts. However, the system is no fool-proof. There are instances of the government having bought wheat from ghost farmers.
Now the state needs to introspect hard on how fair it was in dealing with its farmers, especially as Shivraj Singh Chouhan is a farmer himself.
Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the farmers’ wing of the RSS, has been waging a running battle with the state government for some years.
After 34 farmers ended their lives over two months in 2010, the BKS laid siege to Bhopal in December, demanding the immediate redress of farmers’ problems. The confrontation continued. In May 2012 protests over wheat procurement and shortage of jute bags at Bareli town took a violent turn and former Sarpanch and BKS member, Hari Singh Prajapati was killed in police firing.
Shiv Kumar Sharma who was then secretary of the BKS issued statements to the media saying the BJP government was as corrupt and anti-farmer as the preceding Congress government. Sharma lost his job but the BKS continued to take up the farmers’ cause against the government.
Another issue facing the farmers in this belt is of submergence of land under the Omkareshar dam on Narmada River. With the agitation against the raising the height of the water-level in the dam to 191 metres from 189 metres continuing for nearly a fortnight the condition of protestors squatting in the river has worsened. The state government refuses to budge on the issue.
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