An angry silence greets one on entering the village of Dhasalgaon in Jalna district. Perpetuating agrarian crises for the last three years have made the once-proud farmers of this village poor.
Despite the newly elected Bharatiya Janata Party government’s announcement that it seek a Rs. 4,500-crore package from the Centre, farmers in Jalna have wearied of the lip service that Mumbai’s mandarins have been paying them for the last decade or so.
“Till 2011, the modest earnings from my field would see us through. Today, every single member of our family is out toiling as daily wage labourers in fields of bigger farmers”, says 50-year-old Subhash Mane. The cotton output of Mr. Mane’s four-acre farm has been steadily declining in quality since 2010. This year, unseasonal showers ensured there was no growth at all.
Dhasalgaon, one of the 8,000-odd villages across Maharashtra where the crop yield has been less than 50 paise, is a microcosm of the condition of farmers throughout the districts of the rain-fed Marathwada and Vidarbha regions.
While braving the rain-deficit years of 2012 and 2013, unseasonal rain this year has transformed farmers with small land-holdings into a class of helots. But their ‘masters’ — the so-called richer farmers who own between 40 and 50 acres of farmland — have been hit equally hard.
“Unseasonal rains have cruelly crushed hopes here in Ambad taluk. We ourselves have no work to offer to smaller farmers as our fields have been ruined, the cotton crop stunted,” says Kantirao Shinde, who owns a 20-acre farmland. His sweet-lime trees have been devastated by consecutive droughts, while this year he is forced to make do with paltry harvest of low-grade cotton.
In 2012, Jalna was one of the worst districts in the entire country, reeling under the effects of a missing monsoon. Here, as in other drought-prone parts in Maharashtra, work under the United Progressive Alliance government’s flagship rural jobs guarantee scheme, the MGNREGS, only exists on paper
“Both me and my wife are out toiling from six in the morning to six in the evening. We barely earn Rs. 250 per day. Work is hard to find,” says Parmeshwar Shinde, who owns a two-acre cotton farm.
“Why cannot politicians think about preventive measures? The new BJP government is no different from anyone else,” says an irate Vasant Vanikar, who has a Rs. 2 lakh debt to repay.
Those belonging to the so-called lower castes, only recently come in possession of land, have it even harder. Rajabai Manjulkar, 28, with her four-year old child in tow, has to journey 20 km to a neighbouring village for an 11-hour stone-crushing job.
“We owned a plot of land in the 1990s. However, we had to sell it off in 2012, as we could not cope with the costs of crowing cotton. We hope the new government excuses our debts,” says a careworn Ms. Manjulkar, who still aspires to buy back her plot of land.
Until government proclamations translate into action though, farmers here clutch at straws as the vicious cycle of despair continues unabated.