Thursday, March 01, 2007

Nothing at all for desperate farmers
the asian age -1st march-2007

"We are very sorry, very disturbed. There are daily reports of five to six families whose breadwinner commits suicide, leaving behind widows and little children. Their life is destroyed," said Mr Kishor Tiwari, convenor of the Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti and chronicler of the farmers who commit suicide. Talking to this newspaper from Nagpur, he said: "We are living in a society where the Union finance minister cannot talk about the farmers' suicides. There are about 3,000 widows and he could have applied a healing touch in the Budget by giving them something." The Economic Survey reflected the agrarian distress but Mr Chidambaram was quiet on it, he said. "The National Commission on Farmers has asked for an income-based policy for farmers and a mechanism for a minimum support price, and he has done nothing on it," he said. Asked what he would have liked Mr Chidambaram to do, Mr Tiwari noted that the finance minister had announced that "70 lakh farmers would be covered by institutional credit. This is hardly enough. We have 20 crore farmer families what is 70 lakhs? Farmers need sufficient credit at the right time. The basic issue is the agrarian crisis, and this was not mentioned. There is nothing for the cotton-growing farmers. He should have imposed a 60 per cent import duty on cotton. After his 2006 Budget, 1,500 farmers have committed suicide in six districts of Vidarbha. He should have given a loan waiver. What is the use of an interest waiver? The minimum price for cotton procurement should have been made Rs 3,000 per quintal to make it remunerative for farmers to cultivate cotton." Mr Chidambaram has talked of lowering customs duty on ultrasound and sophisticated medical equipment, but does not provide for doctors and medicines in rural areas, he added.

The subsidy on fertilisers and drip irrigation is just a roadmap for providing infrastructure for corporate farming. The small and marginal farmers do not even have insurance cover, Mr Tiwari pointed out.

He said that since 70 per cent of the population lived in rural areas, there should be special provisions to address their needs.

Mr Tiwari claimed that the finance minister could have freed farmers from their indebtedness with an outlay of Rs 50,000 crores.

He should have also told the banks to ensure that farmers got their loans when they needed them, such as in AprilMay when they have to buy inputs to sown from June, when the rains start.

But since a lot of bank managers are on leave in MayJune, they start giving money only from August and till Diwali, Mr Tiwari claimed. Till then the farmers were at the mercy of moneylenders who sell them inputs like seeds and fertilisers, and then bought his produce at low prices

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