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Disconnect With Reality

Monday, March 20, 2017
By Prashant Hamine

Nine days on the trot, the budget session of the state legislature has been a virtual wash-out. All appear to be shedding copious tears for the poor farmer whose debt burden they wanted to wipe out clean. Or is it? Even the ruling Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members have jumped on the complete loan waiver bandwagon started by the opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

The last few years were indeed bad for the farmers, especially those in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions of the state. The issue is not just about loan waiver, the malaise is much deeper. The crisis is not just restricted to agriculture and farmers alone, but it is man-made, social and more importantly the heavily politicised cooperative rural banking sector has got to do more with the crisis.

But no one is willing to look at the broader picture of climate change, erratic monsoon, deforestation, restrictions on irrigation potentials, the vice like grip that politicians have on the district central cooperative banks, urban cooperative banks, agricultural credit societies and moneylenders. The poor hapless farmer has to conform to the ideology of the politician who controls the financial purse strings in the rural India, just to get a loan to cultivate his farm. Add to that, the farmers have to face lack of assured water supply, poor quality of seeds, inadequate and costly fertilisers and erratic power supply.

It is a big myth that farmers stash away their wealth, profits in rural banks. Given the cumbersome loan procedures in nationalised banks, farmers prefer the hassle free yet dangerous route of approaching the local moneylender or if possible the district cooperative bank for loans. The so-called fight for the farmers' cause has always been self-seeking for the political class. At the end of the day the accounts books of the banks that are going to be cleared of all dues. The bank passbooks of the farmers will continue to show him in the red, a loan defaulter.

Politicians of all hues of political ideology have been controlling the levers of power in the cooperative sectors like – banking, sugar mills, milk dairies, cotton spinning mills and allied cooperative industries. The farmer who should have been the real prime mover in all these cooperative bodies has been reduced to merely a voter with no real authority.

Out of the total 1.37 crore farmers having bank accounts in these district central cooperative banks, nearly 31 lakh farmers have outstanding dues worth Rs 30,500 crore. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis knows it pretty well that fulfilling the demand will sound a death knell for the development projects that he has launched off late.

People are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers that climate change is posing to mankind at large.  Latur district which witnessed water being ferried by railway wagons tops the chart of districts that have enrolled for setting up of the Green Army and increase the meagre forest cover in Marathwada region.  Problem the farmers these days are facing is erratic weather and monsoon.

Almost a decade ago former chief minister late Vilasrao Deshmukh had set up a high altitude weather observatory at Mahabaleshwar to study the monsoon clouds. We are a long way off in setting up Doppler and other Radar systems at the district and taluka level that will give real time data to farmers and authorities about changing weather systems. Our Agriculture Universities have failed to develop cutting edge technology that would boost agriculture production.

Neither have our governments thought about creating infrastructures like Godowns, Cold Storage facilities, Packaging, Marketing and Export facilities. There is a vast difference between irrigation in Uttar Pradesh which is mostly by rivers to that of Maharashtra which is entirely rain dependent. To make matters worse the rocky terrain does not allow percolation and recharge underground water bodies.

We have not been able to guide the farmer by providing him with a detailed Soil Health Card that will tell him which crops he can cultivate depending upon the quality of the soil in his field. Politicians have only encouraged the farmer to cultivate sugarcane just to feed their own sugar mills and fill their own coffers. Everybody knows that sugarcane is a water intensive crop and dries up all your underground water stock, yet no government has been able to convince the farmer to opt for other cash crops.

Bollywood personalities like Nana Patekar, Aamir Khan and Akshay Kumar have understood the problem and are taking steps to stop the farmers from committing suicides. Today neither of these issues are being debated, instead, the demand is to wipe clean the account books of the banks and not of the farmers. Despite being the king maker, the farmer continues to live like a beneficiary. There is a glaring obvious disconnect between what the farmers and people at large want and what the rulers want.

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