Around one crore voters in the Vidarbha region are set to exercise their franchise on October 13 for the Maharashtra Assembly elections. Six months will have elapsed since they last voted for this year’s Lok Sabha. Many things have turned worse in these months in the region as the agrarian crisis continues to plague the populace.
“Our soyabean is dead,” declares Sunil Kamble of Madni village in Wardha district. At a time when farm activity ought to peak, farmers and labourers are at home waiting desperately for the rain to salvage their dying fields. The drought, an intense and untimely heat, and a severe pest attack have destroyed large tracts of soyabean. With no sign of rain, the jowar crop may also meet the same fate.
Siddharth Kamble sowed soyabean in his 15 acres of land. “I sowed and the rain just vanished. It did not rain for one full month in August, when we needed it the most. The month was completely dry,” he says. From afar, his farm appears green, but a closer look reveals a tract of ravaged leaves and cracked land.
After the debacle of cotton, farmers turned to soya in large numbers. Now, they have been let down by this crop too. “We increased the cultivation of soya as the input costs were less. But for the past two years, it has been ditching us,” says Kamble.
Many farmers have simply cleared their soyabean fields. Like Vasanta Janardhan, who uprooted five acres of soya and planted jowar for animal feed.
A brief period of rainfall during the Ganesh festival was enough to raise a few hopes, but not the crops. “It only rained in parts. Earlier it would rain everywhere. If it rained in Mumbai, it would rain here. That does not happen anymore,” says Dr. Bapurao Gawli of Washim’s Amani village.
Vidarbha, with its dry-land cultivation, has suffered many droughts. However, this is the second consecutive drought year. Farmers say they could take the last drought in stride; this year, however, it’s more severe and unmanageable. “This time the problems will be so severe that we won’t be able to do anything,” says Anil Gawli of Amani.
Scarcity of water
Riding on the back of the drought is an acute scarcity of drinking water. Water levels in the lakes, dams, wells and rivers in many places have been greatly depleted. Almost everywhere, people estimate that the water would last them for only the next two to three months.
Wardha’s Dorli village, meanwhile, is contemplating migration. “This year people are going to leave the village because of lack of water,” says a resident.In Nagpur, the lack of drinking water is the cause of persistent and bitter fights in the slums, where tanker water has taken a toll on the health of inhabitants. “Women don’t step out of the house lest they miss the tanker which comes anytime, sometimes even at 1 a.m. or 4 a.m. Women have waited through the night with their vessels,” says Asha Dongre of Ganganagar slum.
The women are also finding it a nightmare to run the household budget amidst the spiralling food prices. Evidently, toor dal tops the list. Even the variety available at some ration shops at Rs.55 is unaffordable. Vidarbha, which grows toor, has a number of people who have stopped eating the dal.
The people have also stopped believing election promises. They know all the packages and schemes are temporary. Moreover, misappropriations and rampant corruption have either delayed or denied relief to many a beneficiary.
There are many like Anil Chandankhede, who has spent two years and Rs. 5,000 seeking an entitlement of Rs. 25,000. “Getting the package entails submitting your land records and other documents, photographs and several trips to the tehsil offices. I say, when the government has all our records, why don’t they just give us the relief directly? How is it that the electricity bill reaches us and not the relief?” he says.
The government’s outlook has never gone beyond the short-term relief measures, says farmers’ leader Vijay Jawandhia.
“Election manifestos speak of one-rupee rice, but never what they will give the farmers. No leader ever speaks on the issue of support price for farm produce.
“Nowadays, elections are not fought on issues, but on money power, muscle power, and caste. Voting has just become a ritual,” he says. So have drought and political apathy.