In Yavatmal district more than 60 per cent of the fields is water-logged

There is hardly any food left in her house. The floods claimed most of her belongings. Now without work for two months, 35-year-old Renuka Shende is worried. “Soon we will be left with only water to quell our hunger pangs,” fears the daily wage labourer from Bhimakund in Vidarbha’s Yavatmal district.

Renuka’s family is among the 100 households forced to flee their village after a devastating flood in June. Today, they are encroachers on government land, a hillock close to Bhimakund. The raging waters of the Painganga river had left the village water-logged for days. It’s the fifth flooding this year alone, leaving them with no home and no crops.

A grim picture, replicated across Maharashtra’s Vidarbha belt already infamous for the highest number of farmer suicides in the country. Over 150 people have been killed in the heavy rains this year, which caused most of the rivers to overflow. Across the belt, 20 per cent of the crop has been destroyed.

The epicentre of the crisis is Yavatmal district where more than 60 per cent of the fields is water-logged. Yavatmal has seen over 50 farmer suicides this year. A fifth of them in the month of August alone, estimates Vidarbha Jana Andolan Samiti (VJAS), the farmers advocacy group.

The wrecked fields drove cotton farmer Anil Bapurao Marope from Yavatmal’s Ghatanji tehsil to swallow poison in July.

“My husband sowed the field in the first week of June but our farm got water-logged in the flood. He had to sow again just 20 days later,” says his widow Radhabai Marope. Faced with a Rs. 45,000 debt which started spiralling, he ended his life. Radhabai now has to fend for herself and their four children.

Prem Rathod, a farmer from the same region, says almost every farmer has had to sow the same crop twice this season.

“Our fields are still water-logged. We will have to wait for a month or two before sowing again,” he says. In the neighbouring district of Wardha, some farmers have sown their crop more than three times in a span of two months.

Faced with growing unrest, the Maharashtra government announced a package of Rs.1934 crore for Vidarbha’s farmers weeks ago. The money, however, can be released only after the district administration estimates the damage done. The official survey is still incomplete. “We have completed 90 per cent of the survey and we hope to complete it by this month-end,” says Yavatmal Deputy Collector Rajendra Deshmukh.

Farmers’ groups have contested the survey saying it has drastically underestimated the damage.

In Washim, the official survey has estimated that 43,000 hectares of crop was destroyed. The VJAS argues that the figure is almost twice as high, at more than 80,000 hectares.

A reason why farmers are already cynical. “The government has not yet compensated us for the floods of 2006. We don’t expect the money this time. Even if it comes, it will be too little,” says Narendra Reddy, village panchayat member of Arli village in Ghatanji tehsil where more than 500 acres of crop is still waterlogged.