Monday January 27, 2020
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Is farmer Gajendra Singh Rajput’s death in vain? Time for Indian politicos to stop bickering and start listening

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By Gaurav Sharma

Every 30 minutes in India, a farmer takes his own life. With more than 60 per cent of the country, directly or indirectly dependant on agriculture, this should be a major cause of concern.

Alas, the problem has persisted, if not been exacerbated over the years.

Scores of farmers have succumbed to the perilous hands of death, in utter helplessness to the droughts that have crumpled their produce, the burden of colossal debts that have hunched their poor backs into resignation.

But more so, the farmers have perished to the menace of suicide because of the callous attitude of our politicians, who seem to be only interested in scoring brownie points, to draw political mileage from their fall.

There has been a significant spurt of around 26 per cent in the number of farmer suicides from last year’s death toll of 1109 .

In the latest episode of horror, Gajendra Singh Rajput, a farmer from Rajasthan’s Dausa district  hanged himself from a tree at Aam Aadmi Party’s rally at Jantar Mantar.

Perhaps Gajendra had a premonition that the address would be a false rhetoric of support?

No sooner did the suicide happen, than the blame-game erupted among the political parties.

While blaming the AAP for the death, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra asked, “Why didn’t the AAP leaders stop the farmer from committing suicide?”

The AAP, however, shifted the onus on the Delhi Police, with Arvind Kejriwal saying, “We kept asking the police to bring him down. Police may not be in our control but at least there should be a semblance of humanity among them. I am rushing to the hospital with Manish Sisodia.”

Later in the day, in an expression of ‘grief and sympathy’, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, Ajay Maken and Sachin Pilot also visited the hospital.

On his part, the Congress scion attacked the BJP for its anti-farmer policies saying, “I just want to tell the farmers we are with them and they should not feel scared at all. It is a very sad incident and so I have not come here to do politics. All this has happened because of the ordinance that has been brought by the BJP government.”

Eventually, a ‘probe’–the usual futile tactic in all such farmer suicide cases–was announced by Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

The passing of the buck from the BJP to the AAP to the Congress to the Police is like a merry-go round of avoiding responsibility, a first-aid measure to rid the conscience of the guilt that the death of the farmer entails on the souls of each party.

It only highlights the complicity of all political parties in the ‘murder’ of the farmer. The hands of the politicians are awash with the blood of the farmers.

The lack of seriousness with which politicians treat the lives of the farmers can be seen quite clearly when a leader like Akhilesh Yadav issues them compensation cheques which later bounce. Citing technical errors do not stem the rot. They only help in casting a dubious light on the intentions and the motives of such leaders.

As if that were not enough, our leaders constantly cry hoarse over the suicide figures that are released by the government data. Recently, Maharashtra’s Union agriculture minister Radhamohan Singh drew much flak from the media after he commented that only three farmers had committed suicide in the state.

The farmer suicides have become so ubiquitous that the situation has now snowballed into an epidemic. The green revolution, the genetically modified seeds or “miracle crops” had their moments for several years before they became counter-productive.

As the crop productivity declined and farmers became more indebted, they started taking their lives with the very pesticide that once protected their crops.

In response, the government announced relief packages and debt-waivers which have only been ineffective, short-sighted, misdirected and flawed because of the simple fact that they do not focus on productivity, but rather on loans and credit.

Instead of bickering and quarreling over who is responsible for the deaths, it would be wise for our leaders to understand that each one of us is directly or indirectly involved with the plight of the farmers.

It is but too obvious that it is only our ignorant arrogance that forces the farmers to take such a drastic step. Only when we accept our massive shortcomings in addressing such a vital issue, will we move towards taking cooperative remedial measures.

Even earlier today, when thousands of farmers gathered at the Jantar Mantar to express their concern and anger over the land bill, only a few were aware of the details. In their heart, only one fear was eating them out – what will they do when their piece of land, the only means to their livelihood–is acquired by the government?

While BJP says that the AAP rally was an attempt to divert attention from their internal problems, Gopal Rai, AAP minister, said that the “Delhi government won’t leave the farmers orphaned, like Modi government has.”

The war continues, but Gajendra’s suicide is a reminder that the farmers will be able to lead a dignified life only when the political parties stop treating them as vote banks to maximize political gains.

In essence, the root cause of farmer suicides is the failure to listen.

  • Not so much the failure to listen but the lack of a proactive attitude. Our politicians do have ears but the problem lies in the fact that they do not act.

    Nevertheless a hard-hitting piece.

Next Story

India to Set up Bio-Gas Plants to Tackle Pollution, but Experts Unsure

India Plans Bio-Gas Plants to Tackle Toxic Pollution, But Experts Skeptical

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Farmer India
An Indian farmer walks through his paddy field as he burns the paddy husk in Chandigarh, India. VOA

India is planning to set up more than 100 bio-gas plants and provide thousands of farmers with machines to dispose of crop stubble in a bid to halt the choking crop-burning pollution that blights the country every winter.

A major source of the smog that engulfs vast swathes of northern India, including the capital New Delhi, is the burning the straw and stubble of the previous rice crop to prepare for new planting in October and November.

New Delhi is regularly judged to be one of the world’s most polluted major cities.

Government-backed Indian Oil Corp Ltd will invite private companies to apply to set up 140 bio-gas plants that will use rice stubble as feed stock, said two government officials, who didn’t wish to be identified in line with official policy.

The plants would cost 35 billion rupees ($487.67 million) and each would require two tons of crop residue every hour for at least 300 days to produce “an optimum amount” of compressed natural gas (CNG), one of the sources said.

The government would earmark funds for the project that would make it attractive for farmers to sell their waste rather than burn it, they said.

India pollution
A woman crosses a railway line on a smoggy morning in New Delhi, India. VOA

The stubble pollution has become more acute in recent years because mechanized harvesters leave more residue than crops plucked by hand.

Other than helping farmers sell their residue to the new bio-gas plants, the government would provide 100,000 new machines every year to farmers to dispose of the farm waste in their fields, the sources said.

“We’ll give farmers the choice to either get rid of crop residue or sell it to the bio CNG plants,” one of the sources said.

Doubts persist

Environmental experts were skeptical.

Also Read- Pollution-Linked Deaths Highest in India: Study

“Given the amount of resources that the government has, what will decide the efficacy of this plan is consistent engagement with farmers,” said Nandikesh Sivalingam, a program manager for Greenpeace.

“But if you expect results next winter, it can’t happen.” (VOA)