`Farmers have no hope from this Budget too`
Interview publish in -Business Standard, India
Q&A: Kishor Tiwari
Sreelatha Menon / New Delhi February 09, 2007
Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti discusses the government's apathy towards farmer suicides in an interview with Sreelatha Menon
You were in Delhi to meet the finance minister?
I did not get an appointment. I am told no one is serious in the government. There is also nothing in this Union Budget to stop farmers from dying. It is just rural infrastructure and not agriculture that the Budget is looking at.
What brought you into this work?
I am a professional. I did engineering in 1981 followed by an MBA from IIM Ahmedabad and then MTech. We are now working in a remote part of Vidarbha in Pandher Kowda in Yavatmal. Journalists have come there from all parts of the world. Times had a cover story on this issue.
Has that helped reduce the number of suicides there?
No. The suicides happen every sixth hour. My phone number is flashed in the local cable channel and every death is reported to me. Even the government goes by my figures.
Has government relief reached the villagers?
The prime minister's package was a hoax. Some money was to be given to widows. Collectors were given Rs 50 lakh each. But there is a 75 per cent rejection rate of applications of widows.
What was the package?
They were to get Rs 30,000 each in cash and Rs 70,000 each as a fixed deposit amount. But I tell the government that I will save the 3,000 widows provided it saves the 3 milliom farmers.
What do you blame for the continuing deaths?
Monsanto and other Bt cotton companies have played a major role in killing farmers. According to the survey of the Maharashtra government in June 2006, 7 lakh of 17 lakh farmers want organic farming. It means cost of inputs has been unbearable. Again, yield of cotton crop has come down from 5 quintal an acre in 1995 to 2 quintal an acre. The price of inputs has gone up from Rs 1,600 per acre to Rs 8,000 per acre since 2002.
Why do you blame Bt?
Sharad Pawar forced the Maharashtra government to tie up with Monsanto to market cotton. ICAR was involved in promoting it. In Andhra Pradesh, the government banned Monsanto but after five days, the Maharashtra government tied up with Monsanto. The crop has been affected by disease every year. While Andhra fought to get compensation from Mahyco, our agriculture minister is an agent of the company and is paying compensation out of tax payers' money.The irony is that both are Congress governments.
Has the government changed its stance on cotton?
Yes. Now government is saying the Bt crop has failed.
What has been the number of deaths?
The media says only 3 000 died, only 400 villages affected. I am saying that cotton farming has been unprofitable. And the Indian government is promoting Bt cotton.
Do you see a solution in the given circumstances?
Karnataka has shown the solution. It lies in zero budget farming. I am taking farmers to Karnataka to teach them how farmers there got out of debts and distress. There, suicides have decreased.
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