Buldhana (Vidarbha): The issue of debt traps of Maharshtra came into focus after the Supreme Court raised questions on union minister Vilasrao Deshmukh's alleged links to money lenders who harasses farmers.
But has the court order brought any relief for farmers who are struck by difficult times and exploited by money lenders?
There was yet another suicide in Vidarbha and farmers rallied around the family that has yet again lost a loved one. Farmer Harishchandra Gaikwad consumed poison and in his rough suicide note, he blamed a moneylender for threatening him and his family to return a debt he had taken.
"He was in a lot of tension. The moneylender kept threatening him. He had taken my husband's signature on a blank court stamp," said Bibi Harishchandra Gaikwad, Harishchandra's wife.
The incident came just two days after farmer Sarangdhar Singh Chavan's victory in his court battle against a politically connected moneylender. On the basis of a police diary entry of 2006, the Supreme Court imposed a fine of Rs 10 lakh on the Maharashtra government and held the then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh responsible for protecting moneylender relatives of Congress MLA Dilip Sananda for grabbing Chavan's land. But Chavan said this was just partial triumph.
"There are many farmers like me who have still not got their land back. The government should take concrete steps in this direction. Only then will the harassment and farmer suicides go down," said Sarangdhar Singh Chavan, complainant.
Over 5500 farmers in Vidarbha are still struggling under debts taken from well connected private moneylenders. Chavan explained why.
"In cities people get a loan amt equaling 90% of their property valuation. Banks give us just Rs 2,000 per acre, even though our expenditure is Rs 10,000. It is the government that pushes us towards moneylenders," he said.
But there seems to be new hope in the little lanes of poverty stricken villages in Vidarbha.
"If such powerful minister and MLA can be held responsible, it will give us hope that the state government is on our side...and perhaps the suicide rate will go down," said Wadoda Farmers Association chief Manohar Deshmukh.
The slamming of a minister and an MLA by the Supreme Court has certainly come as a shot in the arm for poor farmers in Vidarbha. But the pressure will only really be off them when their land, a lot of which is still in the possession of moneylenders, is returned to them and when getting a bank loan becomes easier.