Friday, April 20, 2007

PM's relief package bogus

PM's relief package bogus: Bothbodan sarpanch
Ramu Bhagwat

[20 Apr, 2007 l 0853 hrs IST lTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

YAVATMAL: "The relief packages announced by the prime minister as well as the chief minister are bogus. They have made no difference to the life of farmers toiling hard in hope of a better life," remarks sarpanch of Bothbodan village, 10 km from here, truly the epicentre of the killing fields of Vidarbha.

The unprecedented agrarian crisis has pushed well over 3000 farmers in the region to desperation and suicide in the region in the last five years. In this single village, as many as 18 farmers or their family members have committed suicide in last two years. Says sarpanch Anup Ramchandra Chavan: "The banks have made the most of the package, their balance sheets have been spruced up with the interest waiver of over Rs 700 crore. The needy farmer still does not get adequate loan and has to depend on the moneylender or other resources to carry on with his farming and family needs."

A Church leaders' team, led by Nagpur diocese Archbishop Abraham Viruthkulangara which visited a group of villages in this worst affected of the six suicideprone districts of Vidarbha, came across harrowing tales of suffering of the farmers. Of the 18 suicide cases in Bothbodan, only seven got the compensation of Rs 1 lakh. It became startlingly clear that more and more villagers were falling prey to social vices like drinking and gambling. "I have made repeated attempts to check illicit distillation in the village, but failed because of poor support from the district authorities. Today, every second house in the village distills illicit brew and addiction rate is only rising. To some extent, acute economic distress and inability to catch up with changing lifestyle demands, could be responsible," said the sarpanch, himself an educated and well-to-do farmer with 70 acres of land.

Giving instances of package funds getting into wrong hands, Chavan says at least seven farmers in the village who got electric pumps under a subsidy have no wells in their farms and don't know what to do with the pumps they have received. "A couple of them have sold away the pumps and wasted the money in drinking. Then there are others who can not afford 25% margin money for the subsidised items scheme." A widow who has not received any compensation was found brewing liquor at home. "The increasing rate of suicides in Vidarbha is alarming. Since welfare of people is our prime concern, we at the Church saw the need to intervene and help out the distress farmers," said Archbishop Abraham, addressing the villagers.

Caritas India, the social wing of Catholic Bishops Conference of India, Western Region Social Service Forum, the social arm of the church in states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa, Archdiocese of Bombay, Action for Food production (AFRO) and dioceses of Amravati, Nagpur and Chandrapur will be extending a helping hand to the farmers. "Our programme is aptly called 'campaign for Life'," said the Archbishop. The Church bodies' will focus mainly on social counselling, farmers' capacity building measures, spreading awareness about low cost farming techniques and advocacy by way of lobbying for government schemes and aid to the needy.

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