Government Insensitivity Amidst Acute Distress in Marathwada

Photo Courtesy: Reuters

During her tour of three districts of Marathwada which are reeling under a severe drought, former Rajya Sabha and CPI(M)’s politbureau member, Brinda Karat found the Maharashtra government’s relief schemes woefully inadequate and the local administration lethargic. The result: Agricultural labourers as well as kisans (famers) are in deep distress.

Highlights of her findings:

  • The publicised relief measures are in reality either non-existent or highly adequate.
  • The government’s promise of providing 150 days of work under MGNREGA is just that: an empty promise.
  • In one of the villages Karat visited, labourers had not been paid for 6 weeks. This in effect is pushing them into a debt trap.
  • The acute drought has made the soil hard and stony. Because of the unrealistic schedule of rates, though the daily wages are pegged at Rs. 191 per day, no labourer is able to earn more than Rs. 125.
  • With successive drought years, farmers are heavily in debt. Already in the first 100 days of the current year, 320 farmers have committed suicide. A majority of the farmers have yet to receive compensation for crop loss for the previous year. Instead of relief from government, farmers are receiving notices from banks adding to their trauma and despair.
  • With water and fodder in short supply, desperate farmers have to sell off their cattle at half the price.
  • Despite the publicity of water being supplied to villages by the administration, most of the water requirement is being met through private parties who are reaping huge profits.

In a memorandum submitted to the commissioner, Aurangabad, Karat has pointed to some urgent remedial measures. Here is the full text of her memorandum:
The Commissioner,
Aurangabad Division
Dear Shri Dangat ji,

The Kisan Sabha is holding a campaign on the issues of acute agrarian distress in the Marathwada region. As part of the campaign I had been to a number of villages, cattle fairs, cattle shelters and met approximately 200 kisans and agricultural and MNREGA workers from around  15-20 villages from the districts of Aurangabad, Beed and Jalna.

The Kisan Sabha will undoubtedly give you a comprehensive charter of demands in the coming days. Meanwhile, I would like to draw your urgent attention to the following issues. These are only related to the immediate short term issues which obviously have to be within the framework of a long term plan to deal with water scarcity, water conservation, forestry, etc:

1. The declared government schemes are not seen on the ground in large parts of the area and where they are in operation they are inadequate. The depth of the distress requires administrative measures in a mission mode to bring relief. Unfortunately this is not the case as the following examples show:

2. MGNREGA: I was told by the collector of Beed district that the number of workers on MGNREGA sites has increased from 10,000 to 55,000. However, in all the villages I had reports from there was no work available, not even for the large number of cane cutting migrant workers who have returned to their villages and are desperately looking for work. The government promise of providing 150 days of work is a mockery in the face of this reality.

Even assuming that the official records are all of real workers and not substantially "ghost" workers, as is being alleged by many of the workers seeking work, it is clearly inadequate. With no agricultural work available, the importance of MGNREGA cannot be overemphasised. I believe this requires much greater attention and monitoring to provide work on demand as mandated by the law. 

3. I met MGNREGA workers at the worksite in village Takarwan. They were wearing black ribbons on their wrists as a sign of protest since they have not been paid a single paisa since the work on the project started one and a half months ago. When I checked with the collector, he said that the funds were slow in coming but that it would be done shortly.

It is extreme callousness that in times of such distress wages for work completed are not paid forcing the workers into debt. This is an example of government created and driven debt. I would request you to ensure immediate payment as per the law.

4. The other critical issue on MGNREGA is the current schedule of rates. The soil has turned hard and stony. Yet the work norms are so high as to be impossible for any worker to fulfill. I was informed by the women workers that they have to dig and lift approximately 5,000 kilos of mud a day to reach the work norm for a minimum wage. This is the extent of the cruelty of the government to deprive the workers of the minimum wage. 

It is no surprise therefore that according to the measurement of work done, not a single worker is eligible for the full wage of Rs 191 but the average works out to around Rs 125. It is urgently required to ensure payment of the full wage and reduction of the SORs.

5. As far as kisans are concerned the urgent issue is that of immediate debt relief. Instead, banks are sending notices leading to further trauma and distress. As it is in this region till mid-April, the suicides this year are as high as 320.

Fruit growing kisans such as orange farmers stated that they have had to cut and burn their dried up trees for lack of water. In Beed district it was said that the compensation for crop loss of last year has still not been received by the vast majority of kisans. This again shows the absence of sensitivity on behalf of the government. It is essential to ensure debt relief as well as crop compensation on a war footing.

6. Distress sale of animals is a critical issue driven by debt as well as by the huge expenditure required to maintain the animals with no water availability and no fodder. In the cattle fair at Pachod in Paitha tehsil, Aurangabad, kisans were selling a pair of bullocks priced at Rs 70,000 for just Rs. 30,000-35,000. This is linked to the failure to provide water and cheap fodder.

There are two issues which need to be dealt with urgently. Firstly, the scheme for cattle shelters if implemented properly can be of great help. But these are far too inadequate in number. Also the government must directly run these shelters instead of handing them over to societies which are not being paid in time leading to further problems. Secondly, the amount of assistance does not cover the actual cost of maintaining the animal.

It was shocking to hear that of the amount of Rs 70 rupees to be disbursed per animal pay day,  Rs 8 was being cut by government for the projected price of the manure from each animal per day. This is perhaps the most bizarre approach which depicts the callousness of the government and should be removed and adequate expenditure provided.

7. While the government has publicised its efforts to provide water, in the areas I had visited the main supplies were provided by private  water companies. There were reports of a nexus between government suppliers and private companies.  In any case, it is a fact that the private water companies are making windfall profits, exploiting the desperate need of the people for minimum supplies of water which the government has utterly failed to provide, leaving the field open for private suppliers. There is no regulation or control over the prices being charged. This is an urgent issue which needs to be addressed by the administration.

These are a few of the issues which I wanted to bring to your attention. The deep distress is the region demands a much more comprehensive and mission approach which is sadly lacking.

Yours sincerely,
Brinda Karat

(Along with  colleagues in the Kisan Sabha and CPI(M) including comrades PS Ghadge,  Bhausaheb Zhirpe, B Potbhare and B Bhumbe).



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