May 01, 2016

Acute Agrarian Distress in Marathwada Region

CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat joined a Kisan Sabha campaign on the issue of acute agrarian distress in the Marathwada region in Maharashtra on April 24-25. She, along with other leaders, visited 15-20 villages and met farmers and MGNREGA workers in Aurangabad, Beed and Jalna districts. She also visited cattle fairs and cattle shelters. Later, Karat, along with CPI(M) Central Secretariat member Ashok Dhawale and others, submitted a memorandum to Divisional Commissioner of Aurangabad Umakant Dangat.

In the memorandum, Karat said, “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.”

“I was told by the collector of Beed district that the number of workers on MGNREGA sites has increased to 55,000 from 10,000. However in all the villages, I had reports that there was no work available, not even for the large number of cane-cutting migrant workers who have returned to their villages in that district 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, she said.

MGNREGA workers at the worksite in village Takarwan 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. The Collector 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.

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 fulfil. “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 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 191 rupees but the average works out to around 125 rupees. It is urgently required to ensure payment of the full wage,” she said.

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. Till mid-April this year, the number of farmer suicides in this region stood at 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.

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 of Aurangabad, Kisans were selling a pair of bullocks, priced at Rs 70,000, for just Rs 30,000 to 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 per animal, Rs 8 was being cut by the 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, she said.

“While the Government has publicized 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,” she said. (END)