it has been less than two months since prime minister Manmohan Singh visited Vidarbha, Maharashtra's cotton country, with a special package for the beleaguered farmers. Since then 200 more farmers have committed suicide across the 12 districts of the region, 110 in August alone, which is the highest recorded monthly figure since the debt crisis began nine years ago.
Activists put the rising deaths down to official apathy and farmers' despair. Though Singh announced a relief package worth Rs 712 crore, many farmers say help has yet to reach them. On an average, one Vidarbha farmer commits suicide every eight hours. A local ngo Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti maintains a record of every suicide and uploads it on a website so that the government can't refuse to accept responsibility.Kishore Tiwari of the samiti says the government has not taken relief measures even though three relief packages were declared in the last eight months.
Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh says he is clueless why cotton farmers are taking their lives despite the announcement of huge relief packages. He reckons it's a lifestyle problem, leading to psychological imbalances, which must be addressed. So, he got new-age guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's 'Art of Living' Foundation to spread the practice of meditation and yoga among the hapless farmers. This, Deshmukh believes, will help farmers acquire the right attitude to life and, presumably, stop the suicides.
But every grand plan faces criticism. Vijay Jawandhia, Nagpur-based farmer leader says, "All we need is an increase in the procurement price of raw cotton from Rs 17 to Rs 30 a kg to be able to recover the cost of production."
CSE organises expert meet on cotton to debate suicides [August, 15 2006]
News PM's plan for cotton farmers not enough [July 31, 2006]
Cover Cotton trail - National and International policies are giving farmers a raw deal [July 31, 2006]
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