Debt-freed farmers raise ‘gratitude fund’ for bereaved families

March 11th, 2008 - 2:04 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of P. Chidambaram
By Shyam Pandharipande
Ahmednagar (Maharashtra), March 11 (IANS) For farmers in the region this is the time to remember those who ended their lives because they could not pay back their debts. Thousands of farmers who have benefited from the loan waiver given in the budget are discussing ways to repay the debt to the 100,000 who committed suicide in the last five years - and helped focus on their plight. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram Monday described the Rs.600 billion loan waiver - for farmers with land holdings up to two hectares - in the budget as a repayment of the debt of gratitude the country owed to its farmers. And debt-freed farmers in relatively prosperous west Maharashtra are giving their gratitude concrete shape through a fund to help bereaved families, many of whom are from Vidarbha.

The idea of a ‘kritagyata nidhi’ or gratitude fund was mooted by Congress legislator Yashwantrao Gadakh at a farmers’ rally in Newasa near here last week. The proposal met with instant response from over 5,000 debt-freed farmers.

“We are happy for the relief and are ready to thank all the political parties that are claiming credit for it, but I think we got it because of the farmers who committed suicide and opened the eyes of the world to the terrible crisis,” sugarcane cultivator Mohan Deshmukh of Sonai village told IANS.

Over 15,000 small and marginal farmers in the highly irrigated Newasa sub district alone are eligible for the loan waiver in the range of Rs.75,000 to Rs.125,000.

Deshmukh said they were aware that their compatriots in Vidarbha and Marathwada with bigger land holdings but much smaller loans would be deprived of it because of the two-hectare cap stipulated in the budget proposals.

“Suicides occurred mostly in Vidarbha and their families must be suffering untold hardships. Ironically, more than half the farming community in the region will be deprived of the loan waiver because they own more than two hectares of low-yield un-irrigated land,” Deshmukh said.

He said they supported the demand for increasing the land holding cap to five hectares so that all those who really need it will get the benefit. “But more importantly, we have resolved to help the orphaned families of the distressed farmers who ended their lives.”

Congress legislator Gadakh added that advantaged farmers in his home district were exploring ways to help their less fortunate counterparts in other regions of the state.

“I am going to go from village to village in the district with a ‘jholi’ to collect donations from the debt-freed farmers for the gratitude fund,” Gadakh told IANS. As he sees it, even if one-tenth of the 30 million debt-freed farmers donate small amounts, a tidy sum would be raised.

“I told the farmers: you partied after the loan waiver announcement, fine; you will now arrange marriages in your family with great fanfare. Go ahead! But please remember the families of those who are no more and think of what you can keep aside for them by shunning needless ostentation,” Gadakh said.

“We are appealing to people to cut down on ostentatious rituals and are going to boycott the functions if they don’t listen,” he added.

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