The black cotton soil tract of Amravati
Gunji, Shahpur, Ramgaon, Rajna, Toglabad are all villages that fall in the track of Amravati District called ‘ the Black Cotton soil’ area. So rich is this soil, so fertile and so suitable for cotton farming that the British made this area their main cotton centre in their entire empire that stretched right across the globe. It was said that “the sun never sets on the British empire” because it covered all time zones.
Amravati’s cotton produce, not surprisingly called “white gold” was the treasure trove that kept the empire financed and the cotton mills of England running. Every morning the world wide rate for cotton – America being a big grower too – was declared from Amravati. Right till the 1970s cotton was competing in price with real gold. One quintal of cotton and one gram of gold were sold at the same price!
So rich was this town that you can still find cotton business related buildings that are grand and opulent, though in a sorry state now.
Just like the place and the people…
The plight of cotton farmers now
The soil is still rich, it still grows cotton – but this produce does not fetch enough price anymore to even cover the basic costs that the farmer incurs in growing it. Vidarbha is a delta of 2-3 big rivers which made the lands fertile in the first place. Blessed with abundant sunlight and plenty of water, the two conditions needed to grow cotton, it thrived. Now the temperatures are climbing up, rains have become scanty and there are few or no irrigation dams. Crops are still rain fed.
Over the years so dire has the situation become that this proud and prosperous town competes with Yavatmal – another prosperous area once – in being called a ‘suicide capital’.
This is the area that Rahul Gandhi, V.P. of Congress visited today and made a padyatra of 5 villages mentioned above.
Over the last 10 years more than 2 lakh cotton farmers have committed suicide in India. A majority of them are from Vidarbha.
Since a year, the mood was upbeat though. Modi government had come to power in Delhi and one of his poll promises had been raising the price of all farm produce to cost price + 50%. Then Maharashtra got a CM who was from Vidarbha and hopes further spiraled. Only to be dashed. And dashed so ruthlessly that this year already 601 farmers have given up on life already. The price promised to them has been ruled out as “not possible” and what they are getting isn’t even covering costs. Subsidies on fertilizers has been removed and it is in short supply adding to its price and availability. A bag of DAP that was costing Rs. 485/ last year is Rs. 1300/ on an average now. Shortages are driving up stated prices too. So a bag of Urea that has been marked Rs. 285/ is being sold at Rs. 330/. In this scenario the current government has declared a price rise of Rs. 10 to Rs 20 per quintal, which is like playing a cruel joke on farmers, laments one cotton farmer.
The area was pelted with unseasonal rains and hail storms too in the last 2 months. This destroyed standing crops too and other cash crops like oranges, something else the area is known for. The ‘Ambiya bahar’ which were promising a good harvest were almost completely felled while the Mrug bahar was already very poor due to less rainfall during monsoons.
Compensations have been announced, but they are not forthcoming. There are many reports of ‘patwaris’ not doing proper assessment and declaring imaginary figures as ‘losses’ leading to many farmers not being eligible to get compensation. (Only if your crop damage is 35% or more you can avail of compensation – most farms are wrongly being adjudged as suffering from only 25% to 30% damage).
Estimates made by some knowledgeable farmers are that ALL crops this year are going to be only 50% of last year’s yields, so extensive has been the damage.
These are the points that farmers like Nilesh Bharat Walke, Ambadas Wahile, Guchru Goma, Ramdas Adkine etc brought to the notice of Rahul as he visited their humble abodes accompanied by many Youth Congress leaders.
The tempratures were above 40* already and the places were dusty and hot but the brisk padyatra went on, with Congress workers, villagers and even media being forced to follow suit.
Villagers were out on terraces and balconies to catch a glimpse of the Congress Vice President who has an image of being “villager friendly”.
The fiction of Vidarbha ‘irrigation projects’
By co incidence today only many organizations fighting for the cause of Vidarbha like V Connect, VED and Jan Manch have come out with a shocking expose. It is well known that since Vidarbha joined Maharashtra it has been sidelined where it came to irrigation projects and other developmental activity. Time and again we have been promised that redressal was being made and gap covered. This is the reality though…. The report given out by these organizations reads –
Vidarbha is among those areas of the world which has tremendous water potential, but, unfortunately, is still known for its dry land farming. It falls under the Godavari and Tapi Basins which have a water potential of 678 and 95 totaling respectively to 773 TMC of water. From this water source, over 35 Lac hectares of agricultural land can be brought under irrigation which can change the entire economy of this region.
Unfortunately, for the last several decades, the irrigation in Vidarbha has been deliberately sidelined, and owing to this, several farmers have committed suicide in this region.
Out of the 45 projects which were granted final approval and work is in progress, the status of the projects was submitted which provided information such as the amount spent on the projects, percentage of work completed and the probable dates by which these projects would be completed. It is found that the information furnished by Government of Maharashtra was not appropriate and the deadlines which were given regarding completion of these projects have not been fulfilled.
At the same time, Janmanch also filed a petition in the the Hon’ble Bombay High Court, Nagpur Bench, regarding the irregularities and corruption that have taken place in the irrigation projects in Vidarbha under VIDC. An ACB inquiry is also in progress due to this petition.
Loknayak Bapuji Aney Smarak Samiti, Janmanch, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Swadeshi Jagaran Manch and VED Council are holding a “Vidarbha Irrigation Shodh Yatra” from 30th April 2015 to address this issue. Members of all the three organizations will visit all these projects to bring the facts of these projects in front of the Government of Maharashtra, VIDC, Media and the people of Vidarbha.
While Rahul’s tour with this background is making a lot of news since this morning, BJP Ministers were quick to mock exercise and make derogatory jokes out of it.
“When Rahul came back after a two months’ ‘leave’ they shouted ‘he has come, he has come!’ When he spoke in Parliament they shouted ” he can speak” and now with his padyatra they are jubilant that ‘he can walk’ ” was one such statement.
Well, at least he is here, unlike the CM of the state who chose to visit Israel to look for ‘answers’ to Vidarbha’s farmers’ problems.