19 March 2018 08:10 PM



How Many More Dharma Patils?

When action does not transpire, you get Dharma Patil and thousands of such suicides

Dharma Patil died. He consumed poison at the Mantralaya, Mumbai. He didn’t die immediately, though. His family had to witness his final moments in the hospital. The doctors tried to save him, but in vain. Dharma had lost the will stay alive. He had had enough of the fight with the establishment.

All and sundry condoled his death. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis even assured Dharma’s son in writing. But Dharma Patil isn’t an isolated case. In fact, it is a representation of the plight of farmers, and the fact that how deep rooted it is. The first 10 months of 2017 had over 2500 farmers committing suicide. The declaration of farm loan waiver didn’t prove to be a relief either. Which is why, to examine the root cause of it, one must look at Dharma Patil’s story closely.

Dharma belonged to Shindkheda in Maharashtra’s Dhule district, where a thermal power station is coming up at Vitaran, for which the state has been acquiring land from the farmers. Dharma lost 5 acres of his land in the process, while receiving a palty 4 lakh rupees as compensation, in spite of having a fertile land with Mango orchards and a well. A neighbouring farmer with pomegranate orchard had received 5 crores rupees. Dharma merely wanted this gross disparity explained, and redressed.

But he got nothing. Courtesy an unholy alliance between politicians, bureaucracy and middlemen. The neighbouring farmer who got 5 crores is accused of brokering a deal through middlemen. If Dharma had sacrificed his honesty, he may have been alive today.

However, the most furious aspect of the whole episode is the politicisation of the suicide. A minister in Fadnavis cabinet said this matter dates back to the previous regime. However, when a web portal established it to be in 2015, the state government backtracked. Further, another minister, instead of consoling Dharma’s family, started using sarkari rhetoric like “we will examine if we have made a mistake”. The discourse proves that the government has lost all its sense of empathy, which has lost the moral right to govern its citizens.

Ulka Mahajan, who has been studying the discrepancies in the land acquisition projects, says Vikharan is not the only case where this blatant corruption exists. Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Highway, Mumbai-Delhi Industrial Corridor, Rajapur Refinery and so on. No project is an exception.

First of all, the state government doesn’t seem to be applying the land acquisition act of 2013 to most of the projects. The latest act is more favourable to the farmers, but administration finds loopholes around it and end up extorting land from the farmers. Farmers are not given notices, they are threatened through local goons or middlemen. The moment a project is announced, officers and politicians buy land around it and spread rumours of farmers’ willingness to renounce their land. Those who oppose face the might of local police. Baban Harne, an activist from Shahapur, told me there are over 180 such cases just in the Samruddhi Highway. The ones with political contacts get a nice deal, others are thrown peanuts.

Last week, I was in Sangli, where the Vijapur-Guhagar Highway is supposed to come up. Officers are barging into farmlands and forcibly taking measurements. Local activist here, Dr Amol Pawar, along with hi associates, recently held a press conference against it. However, the Fadnavis government has threatened and even jailed some of them. This precise arrogance was the reason why we voted out the Congress-NCP government, farmers say, why doesn’t the current regime realise this?

In the run up to 2014 general elections, Narendra Modi had conducted a chai pe charcha in Amravati, where he promised fair compensation, cost of production plus 50% MSP, and if required, a loan waiver. While “fair” compensation took Dharma Patil’s life, the farm loan waiver has been derailed forever.

Fadnavis had said close to 90 lakh farmers would benefit from it. But the caveats in the waiver ensured only 56 lakh farmers could apply for it. Even the ones who managed to apply, aren’t satisfied, for the upper cap of the waiver is 1.5 lakh rupees. Farm leaders like Ajit Navale have raised questions about this government’s intent and transparency. The opposition is calling it a “new-age peshwai”. And it is resonating among the farmers.

On 1st February, Arun Jaitley presented the budget for 2018-19. The government is claiming to have provided relief to the farmers of the country. Jaitley even claimed to have almost fulfilled the objective of providing MSP at cost of production plus 50%. However, Yogendra Yadav and other experts have exposed how misleading the claim is. Dr M S Swaminathan too has raised serious questions about the government’s claims.

Farmers of this country are fed up of false promises. They need action. And when the action does not transpire, you get Dharma Patil and thousands of suicides.