Maharashtra Revenue Minister Narayan Rane’s proposal to impose prohibition in the suicide-prone districts of Vidarbha created a storm of protest in the State Legislature on Thursday.

Trouble began in the Legislative Council in the morning when Neelam Gorhe of the Shiv Sena raised the issue of how alcohol consumption could be the main reason for suicide by farmers.

In reply, Mr. Rane said his suggestion to Chief Minister Ashok Chavan to impose prohibition in the suicide-prone districts was based on reports that have investigated suicides and it was not his personal opinion.

On December 7, Mr. Rane wrote to Mr. Chavan demanding prohibition in the districts in Vidarbha where farmers are committing suicide. Reducing alcohol consumption could help in solving the problem, Mr. Rane felt.

He clarified that alcoholism was one of the reasons for the suicides. However, the Sena took exception to the suggestion and Mr. Diwakar Raote said this was an insult to the farmers of Vidarbha. He demanded an apology from Mr. Rane.

There was much slogan-shouting and the Opposition walked out in protest. When the Council assembled again, Pandurang Phundkar, Leader of the Opposition in the Council, raised the issue once again and demanded a break-up of farmers’ suicides due to alcohol consumption. He demanded that Mr. Rane should apologise to the farmers and clarify his position.

Mr. Rane said he had nothing to apologise for as it was not his personal opinion and he had not intended to hurt anyone.

His opinion was based on reports on farm suicides. He had even spoken to the Yavatmal Collector who confirmed that four per cent of farm suicides in the district were due to alcoholism. He said even if this four per cent can be stopped, that would make a big difference.

The Council adjourned on this issue once again. In his letter, Mr. Rane said that in the districts of Yavatmal, Akola, Buldhana, Washim, Amravati and Wardha, the rate of farm suicides was high and prohibition was already in place at Wardha.

Mr. Chavan later told reporters that if prohibition helped solve the problem, he did not mind banning alcohol in the suicide-prone areas. “But the question is if that is the real problem.” “We will take everyone into confidence, including the Opposition, and take a decision,” he said.

In his letter, Mr. Rane said that indebtedness was cited as the cause of suicides and the government was getting a bad name for this. After a discussion with the officials here, he said there seemed to be other social reasons for the suicides, but high alcohol consumption was also one of them .

Even though there are such huge packages for farmers, the rate of suicides is not coming down, he noted. Along with the economic package, there should be complete prohibition in the six districts and action should be taken on illicit breweries as well, he suggested.

However, Kishore Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti called the proposal ridiculous. “People drink more in Tamil Nadu and they have the least suicides,” he said. The government has to acknowledge that suicides are the result of a serious economic crisis.

By reducing it to excessive alcohol consumption, the government is mocking at the issue, he said.