Nagpur/Mumbai: In his early days as Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had said that he too was a farmer and knew how to milk a cow. His sensitivities towards the farming community have been put to test after the death of 32 farmers from pesticide poisoning in the Vidarbha region, from where Fadnavis hails. The deaths have cast a shadow on this year’s Diwali celebrations. It is the Fadnavis government’s latest challenge in the area, which is already known for the highest number of farmer suicides.
Yavatmal, with 21 pesticide deaths, is the worst affected district, while multiple cases have been reported from Akola, Nagpur, Bhandara, Amravati, and Buldhana. Around 800 farmers are under treatment in district hospitals, while 23 have lost their eyesight.
Every one of them has tested positive for pesticide contamination. A concerned state government has formed a Special Investigation Team to inquire and determine whether pesticide companies had sold farmers “unauthorised” products.
As per regulations, all pesticides and fertilisers must be tested in government laboratories before marketing. Further, state agriculture officials must train farmers on their correct usage. However, farmers often go by the advice of local Krishi Seva Kendras run by private shopkeepers.
Amravati’s BJP legislator Anil Bonde has accused the staff of the agriculture department of not doing their job in training cultivators on pesticide usage. Former Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar has also raised questions on whether the pesticides in use were properly tested.
Alarmed at the rising death toll in Vidarbha, state agriculture minister Pandurang Phundkar said that the government would “cancel licences of Krishi Seva Kendras found selling unauthorised products.”
While opposition leaders predictably criticised the Fadnavis government, it faced more serious censure from within. Kishor Tiwari, president of the state run corporation Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swabhimaan Mission, described the Vidarbha deaths as “genocide.” He accused agriculture department officials of accepting bribes to approve untested and unsafe pesticides.
The unfolding tragedy has also raised questions on the cultivation of BT cotton, which requires multiple applications of pesticide, in Vidarbha. “This year, farmers needed to spray ten times more pesticide (compared to the amount needed for non-BT varieties) to control the pests,” said an official from Nagpur’s Central Institute for Cotton Research.
Yet to deliver on his promised farm loan waiver, Fadnavis has announced an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh for each victim’s family. He has also directed the distribution of protective masks amongst farmers, besides constituting a committee headed by Sudhir Shrivastava, additional chief secretary (Home), to determine the reasons for the deaths.
Fadnavis has been in a tight spot after the farmers protested on several issues — right from demanding loan waiver to land acquisition for his pet project Nagpur-Mumbai Samruddhi Corridor — in the last couple of months. His failure in giving them solace puts a big question mark on his farmer identity.
(Courtesy of Mail Today. By KIRAN TARE as Published in dailyo.in)