Sermon in Delhi, suicides in west
OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
Mumbai/Nagpur, May 26: As Manmohan Singh spoke in Delhi to men in suits at a top business conclave about taking the poor along, many in Vidarbha's killing fields might have thought it was a cruel joke.
Eleven cotton farmers ended their lives, six of them on Wednesday, unable to cope with a grim harvest and piling debts. A day earlier, five perished in a similar fashion.
Last July, the Prime Minister toured the suicide-stalked region, but the special package he announced during that visit has done little to solve farmers' problems.
Wednesday's deaths occurred in Buldhana, Wardha and Akola districts. Tuesday's casualties were in Amravati (two deaths), Yavatmal (two) and Washim (one). The number of suicides this month alone stands at 47.
As the deaths rise, so does the anger. "The Prime Minister's office recently praised the Vilasrao Deshmukh government for implementing the relief package and reducing suicides. Then, why are so many farmers still dying?" asked Kishore Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, which keeps a "suicide register".
So far this year, 397 farmers took their lives, indicating that the package had failed to strike at the root of frustration, Tiwari said. His records show 70 deaths in January, 88 in February, 97 in March and 95 in April. The number since July last year stands at 1,500.
During his visit, the Prime Minister had met 90 families of suicide-affected farmers. His Rs 3,750-crore package was mainly aimed at solving the region's rural credit crisis.
But the Centre had not agreed to two key demands of farmers: an increase in the support (assured) price of cotton from Rs 3,000 a quintal, and a loan waiver. Only an interest waiver of Rs 712 crore was provided. Another Rs 2,255 crore was given for irrigation.
Tiwari said the rate of suicides has increased since the Centre announced its package. He blamed authorities for not doing enough to rein in private moneylenders who often charge farmers high rates of interest.