Published On:24 March 2011
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Farmers in Gujarat going the Vidarbha way, Swarnim Gujarat turns into ‘Suicidal’ Gujarat

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

The very important news in local Gujarati media these days is that over 5,000 farmers have submitted a memorandum to Chief Minister Narendra Modi demanding cancellation of permission given to Nirma Ltd for setting up a cement plant in Bhavnagar district.

In fact, Narendra Modi has given land to many top industrialists pampering them and thus making farmers in the state see red. Nirma Ltd is building up a cement plant with capacity of 1.91 million tonnes per annum, along with its captive power and coke oven plant, near Padhiarka village in Mahuva taluka of Bhavnagar district.Farmers, from the villages in vicinity of the upcoming project, under BJP MLA Dr Kanubhai Kalsariya, took out a rally that reached Ahmedabad in protest against the Nirma plant.

With successive crop failure, increasing debts and no aid from the government, farmers in Gujarat state are going the Vidarbha way.

Ramesh Bhai Mangalpura, a 45-year-old farmer of Sarabgardad village in Rajkot district killed himself in August last year.

After an investment of over Rs 55,000 in fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation, Ramesh yielded nothing.

"His heart sank when he saw black fungal infected flowers on Jeeru shrubs. He said, "All my hard work has gone down the drain, what I will do now, who will give me a fresh loan?" says Prabha Bhen, 40-year-old widow of Ramesh.

"One night he refused to have his meal, the next morning he committed suicide."

Every year farmers have to repay bank debts in March, or they are denied new loans. Plus, rates of interest on previous loans go up.

Ramesh had taken loans from his relatives, the local self-help group and the government bank. He had defaulted on payments and felt he needed money for his daughter's marriage.

Ramesh owned a small plot of 2.5 acres and had rented another 4 acres for Rs 20,000 to try to meet the family's basic needs. But produce from all his land was almost zilch.

Seeing no way out Ramesh Bhai Mangalpura consumed pesticide.

Tough times

Farmer suicides are a growing crisis in Gujarat. For three consecutive years farmers say they have been battling not only natural disasters but also state apathy to their plight.

"The authorities release waters from dams every year, and that leads to floods. Cost of seeds, fertilisers, irrigation and labour have gone up while subsidies are being cut. And we do not get due rates for our yield," says Partibhaben whose husband had also committed suicide in 2006.

Occupation of loss

Farmers are finding it difficult to survive on agriculture. Their woes are captured well in the local idiom which says, "kheti etley khotno dhandho (farming is an occupation of loss)."

Nearly 500 farmers have committed suicide in the last four years.

Reasons ranging from financial debts and failed crop to illness and jilted relationships have been cited by the state Director General of Police (DGP).

News reports have quoted the police as saying that 6,055 farmers died 'accidentally' or for 'unexplained reasons'. 'Accidental' deaths include 'consuming pesticide by mistake to cure a headache' or 'dropping dead while spraying insecticide'.

Noted danseuse and social activist Mallika Sarabhai said that both the UPA-led government at the Centre and Narendra Modi as chief minister of Gujarat have failed to solve the problems faced by farmers.

Sarabhai said that the politicians in the state and central governments are very corrupt, asking them not to depend on these politicians and instead raise their voices for their rights.

"On one side, the Modi government is boasting about Vibrant Gujarat. But, at the same time, the condition of the farmers in the state is deteriorating. They are committing suicide. There are instances of farmers having to pay electricity bills for connections they are yet to get," she said and added. "Several farmers in Gujarat have committed suicide in the last four years."

Local activist Bharatsinh Jhala has used the Right to Information (RTI) Act to get details from the state police on farmers' suicides and deaths and also compensation from the state agriculture department. "I am myself a farmer. Farmer suicides are an emotional issue for me. A suicide committed by a farmer in a neighbouring village touched me to the core," says Jhala.

It was then he decided to invoke the RTI. "I wanted to bring out the contrast between the state government's claims of a 'Vibrant Gujarat' and the actual situation of its farmers."

According to the agriculture department, compensation has been given to 1,909 families. That means 4,146 families have not been compensated for their loss, says Jhala.

Newspaper reports say that over half of the 6,055 claims for compensation have been rejected. According to Jhala, only 20 per cent of the claims have been honoured. "The state government has been paying a premium for farmers' insurance, but one wonders why only a few claimants receive payouts,'' he adds.

Rightfully Ours

Activists and widows of deceased farmers recently met with National Human Rights Commission chairman S Rajendra Babu, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and officials at the Planning Commission and Prime Minister's Office to press for immediate assistance to debt-ridden families.

"We are asking the government to provide compensation for losses over the last three years, which have driven families to desperation," adds Pratibhaben.

Government also needs to support farmers in restoring land affected by floods. Farmers are also calling for government to immediately waiver outstanding loans.

"Gujarat government has given away valuable land measuring 78.83 crore sq.m. to industrialists in last two years. The Modi government does not give land to farmers and landless labourers while industrialists are being favoured," said Leader of Opposition in Assembly Shaktisinh Gohil.

The state government itself has given the above figures in reply to queries about it from Congress MLAs in the Assembly. Gohil said that the Modi government is pro rich and does nothing for poor farmers. It is a government of industrialists, he alleged.

Giving details he said that Nirma Ltd has been given around 15 crore sq.m. land in Bhavnagar, Tata consultancy 1.03 lakh sq.m. in Gandhinagar, Tata Motors 44.51 lakh sq.m., Ultratech cement around 15 lakh sq.m. in Amreli, Archian Chemicals around 24.02 crore sq.m. in Kutch, Solaris Chemtech 26.74 crore sq.m., Enorcon India Ltd 10.3 lakh sq.m. in Rajkot and Adani has been allotted 5.22 crore sq.m. in Kutch besides few other companies.

The growth differentials in Gujarat are very appalling. On one hand, there is the growth, on other there is a serious decline in the social indicators of like sex ratio. According to ‘India State Hunger Index 2008’, Gujarat is shockingly ranked worse than Orissa.

Gujarat is ranked 13th in the 17 big states which were calculated in this list. Gujarat is only above Jharkhand, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, which are globally equal to the hunger situation in Ethiopia.Poverty levels are rising; employment and agriculture are not in good shape.

The agricultural production has been declining, e.g. from 65.71 lakh tones in 2003-2004 to 51.53 in 2004-2005.

A survey conducted by NSS in 2005 reveals that approximately 40% farmers of state said that given the option they would like to shift away from agriculture. Recent studies show that during the last decade agriculture and labor both have suffered extensively.

Congress hits out

State Congress President Arjun Modhwadia claimed that 9,829 workers, 5,447 farmers and 919 farm labourers have committed suicide in the state during Narendra Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister.

During the debate on the supplementary budgetary demands in the state Assembly, he said these figures were provided by the state government.

Modhwadia further claimed that Gujarat has the highest poverty rate in the country as per the Suresh P Tendulkar Committee appointed by the Planning Commission.

He said that 31.8 per cent population of Gujarat is poor followed by Andhra Pradesh (29.9 per cent), Tamil Nadu (29.8 per cent), Himachal Pradesh (22.9 per cent), Punjab (20.9 per cent), Kerala (19.7 %), J-K (13.2 %) and Haryana (2.1 %).

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on March 24, 2011. Filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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