When Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis asked film actress Deepika Padukone to engage farmers on how to cope with stress, I wasn’t surprised. Treating agrarian distress as a symptom of some sort of a mental disorder that largely afflicts farmers reflects the failure of the government to address the reasons behind the grave tragedy on the farm.
According to newspaper reports, 628 farmers had committed suicide till September 5 in the Marathwada region. In the first week of September alone, 32 farmer suicides were reported. So much so that Marathwada in Maharashtra has lately emerged as the farmer suicide capital of India.
“We did a survey (with regard to farmer suicides) in two places and found that 40 per cent farmers were under stress. More than the package, they need somebody to assure... reassure them that they exist...they are needed,” the Chief Minister was quoted as saying in a newspaper report. “We would like to give Deepika Padukone a mission... mission to engage with farmers.” He was speaking in Mumbai at a launch of a foundation ‘Live, Love Laugh’ that the actress had floated.
Deepika Padukone is a talented actress. I also like her acting. I would certainly be delighted if she can make a difference, even if it is a small one, in pulling at least some families out of despair. I am sure she can be very helpful in drawing more attention towards the agrarian issues. But to expect a film star to do what the state government has failed to do is a clever way of passing on the responsibility. First, it was the turn of psychologists, now film stars, and who knows magicians may be the next to be entrusted with the monumental task.
This reminds me of a news report a few months back which said Maharashtra’s Agriculture Minister Eknath Khadse had in an honest admission accepted that the State Government was clueless about how to put a stop to farmer suicides in Vidharbha and Marathwada regions. Chief Minister’s invitation now to Deepika Padukone is simply an endorsement of the government’s inability to come to grips with the crisis.
The Niti Ayog has meanwhile set up a task force in agriculture to find a solution to the vexed farming crisis. It has also directed the state governments to set up separate task force to understand and suggest the way out from the continuing agrarian crisis. Which means, soon we will have 30 more committees presenting their recommendations. What is not being realized is that there already exist reports and recommendations of 53 expert committees that had been set up in the past. How many more committees do we need to constitute?
Many State Governments, including Punjab, Kerala and Karnataka have brought out Agricultural Policy documents after a series of expert consultations. Also, in preparation for the 12th Plan document, several task force and committees on sustainable agriculture, technology, water, and marketing had given their reports. What has to be first ascertained is why the agrarian crisis continues to worsen despite so many expert committee reports. Especially this year, the spate of suicides witnessed since the beginning of the year will perhaps surpass all existing records.
In Punjab, for several weeks now farmers have been agitating demanding a higher compensation for the devastation caused to standing cotton crop from a virulent attack of a tiny insect – whitefly. Farmers have blocked rail tracks for several days now throwing the rail traffic out of gear. As per reports, 75 per cent of the crop is destroyed, and so far 17 farmers have committed suicide. In addition to the damage to cotton, an unprecedented slump in basmati prices has also added to farmers’ woes. Farmers protest in Punjab therefore is not because they are under stress, but it is the severity of economic stress they are confronted with that has drawn them on to the rail tracks.
What is not being acknowledged is that the existing agrarian crisis is the outcome of economic policies that have been pursued for several decades now. Agriculture has been deliberately kept impoverished all these years. The reason is clear. Successive governments are keen to move people out of agriculture, with the aim to provide cheap labour for industries and infrastructure. Niti Ayog chairman Arvind Panagariya as well as the Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan have repeatedly made that abundantly clear. Unless a sincere effort is made to revive the pride in agriculture, by making farming economically viable and also environmentally sustainable in the long run, the stress component will keep on growing. #
Deepika Padukone can't be bulwark against farmers' suicides. ABPnewstv.in Oct 11, 2015