The district of Vidharbha keeps throwing up news of some farmer or the other committing suicide; so much so that the image of a teary-eyed widow standing in front of the deceased farmer’s garlanded photo has now been seared into public consciousness. If India is a land of stark inequality then Maharashtra is a distressingly shining example of said inequality. It is simultaneously home to the country’s financial capital-Mumbai and Vidharbha, where farmers commit suicide in droves.
The state’s poorest districts also incidentally happen to be in Vidharbha and Marathawada, currently the epicentre of farmer suicides. These imbalances in wealth across the state translate into worsening inequality with farmers resorting to borrowing money from cutthroat moneylenders during times of financial distress. Unable to repay them, they then resort to the extreme step of committing suicide. So stark is the institutional failure in these regions that decades of government sops have not helped change the situation one bit. Adding insult to injury and compounding the woes of the farmers is the heavy unseasonal rainfall.
Rain during the month of March-which is peak harvesting season-can mean huge losses to farmers since all their standing crop is destroyed during just one shower. Entire Rabi crops have been wiped out during the last month, with farmers crying out in despair. The government had already declared hundreds of villages scarcity hit during the 2014 monsoon season. Unable to cope with severe financial losses resulting from unpredictable weather, nearly 100 farmers have committed suicide since January this year.
Climate change experts have pointed out that this unpredictable rain is the direct result of global warming. According to a Centre for Science and Environment report, global warming has led to a significant impact on Indian farmers. The findings of the report indicate that climate change causes unpredictable weather events-unseasonal rain, heat wave, cold wave, cyclone etc-which cause severe losses to farmers. This is because sowing patterns are calibrated according to seasonal rain patterns and with the implicit assumption that the rain gods won’t play truant. Rabi crops, which are normally grown in winter, are likely to be impacted due to increasing temperatures which inflict terminal heat stress on fledgling crops.
The Maharashtra government could have mitigated these losses by employing the right weather forecasting technologies along with agile policy initiatives. It instead continues to drag its feet on a financial package and a group insurance scheme for affected farmers; all the while claiming that it is studying the impact of unseasonal rainfall. This head in the sand approach is alarming when the need of the hour is a responsible governance mechanism, which responds to the distress of the farmers with proactive alacrity.