Burdwan: Burdwan may be the Rice Bowl of Bengal. However, its farmers are committing suicide. Here, rice is not a source of prosperity but of anguish. Spiralling debt has reportedly driven 16 farmers here to commit suicide in the past one year.
Fifty-four-year-old Amiya Saha was one such farmer. The memories haunt his wife, but what hurts more is the continued government denials that something is amiss here.
Says Jayanta Saha, a farmer, "It is unfortunate that the government says that there haven't been any farmer suicides. As if we don't count."
Meanwhile another farmer, Bama Pada Mallik has his daughters to help him with the work in the fields. He does not have the money to hire labourers. Hence, the girls miss their school to assist their father.
The government's low procurement prices are not helping the matter either.
Bama Pada doesn't know how he will make ends meet.
He says, "The government's procurement price of paddy is less than the cost of rice. We produce this rice and when we buy it outside, it becomes expensive."
"If this continues, we will die hungry," he laments.
In Bengal, the problem is of plenty. Despite a bumper crop, farmers like Nizamuddin Ahmed are unable to sell their produce due to low procurement prices of the government. Though middlemen have been done away with, and farmers can directly sell their crop to the mill owners, they continue to be exploited.
Says Ahmed, "There are many good schemes announced by the government but they are not implemented properly. Mill owners are harassing us, they give us cheques after months and discard several sacks thus leading to wastage."
The state government has admitted there are issues. Says Agriculture Minister Rabindranath Bhattacharya, "It is true that some mill owners are exploiting farmers. There is also the problem of storage to keep the grain."
There have been numerous plans of ushering the second Green Revolution in India, especially in the East, with numerous pro-farmer policies. Yet what is still ailing the farmers of Bengal? Perhaps it is time to take lessons and bridge the gap between what is on paper and what is clearly missing on the ground before more farmers are forced to take their lives.