Friday, September 10, 2010

Excess rain driving farmers to suicide in Vidarbha-Jaideep Hardikar in DNA

Excess rain driving farmers to suicide in Vidarbha

DNA / Jaideep Hardikar / Friday, September 10, 2010 2:20 IST

After faulty government policy, ineffective pesticides and poor monsoons, it is excessive rain that is driving farmers in the Vidarbha region to suicide now.

Five farmers have killed themselves in the last three days alone, driven by despair and mounting loans.

On Monday morning, in Wardha district’s Waifad village that prime minister Manmohan Singh had visited in 2006, Hanuman Chaudhary walked to a well near his house. He stared into it for five minutes before jumping, to be swallowed by water 40 feet deep.

“My sons saw him at the well but thought he was washing his legs,” said Ramdas Chaudhary, his cousin who lives next door. “Some villagers tried fishing him out, but it was too late.”

The death of Chaudhary, 40, is an indication of how grim the situation in Vidarbha has once again become. Excessive rains this year have threatened to destroy crops. The meteorological department has forecast long wet spells this month. Already this year, Vidarbha has seen 20% more than the average annual rainfall of 850 mm, in sharp contrast to the poor rains of the last three seasons. Farm labour is scarce, with farm work requiring more hands due to incessant rains.

“The situation is bad for cotton and pulses,” divisional joint director of agriculture JC Bhutada said. “Surveys of the losses and crop destruction have been ordered.”

What has made the situation worse is that there has been a massive switch from soybean to cotton this year. In 2010, the area in Maharashtra under cotton cultivation grew by 5 lakh hectare. Half of the expansion was in Vidarbha alone. However, the gamble seems to be failing. Vijay Jawandhia, farmers’ leader and a resident of Waifad, said, “There is already a 50% loss.”

Chaudhary’s suicide is a case in point. On his five-acre farm, the crops of cotton and pulses stand inundated in knee-deep water. “We have lost everything,” his widow Kantabai said. Their production expenses trebled in the wake of rising inputs costs (from seeds to chemicals) and, just as it looked like a good monsoon year after three years of drought, heavy showers belted the crops. “The losses worried him no end.”

Chaudhary owed a relative Rs60,000. “There won’t be any returns on our investment,” said Kantabai, as her teenage daughters, Kanchan and Vaishali, squat next to her, looking sombre. “Even if there is any, what’s the use now?”

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