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Nov 30, 2011 at 09:16pm IST

Why is Vidarbha's cotton belt now a suicide belt?

New Delhi: Farmer suicides in Vidarbha have been occurring since the last 15 years but they only came to light around 2005. Post that the government announced several schemes and packages for the cotton farmers, including the much hyped Prime Minister's package.

But Vidarbha still has just 4 per cent irrigated land, major loadshedding which has caused the per acre production of Vidarbha to be just 2 quintals of cotton as opposed to the national average of 5.

Here's a report on all the factors driving the farmer to suicide.

40 lakh hectares of land is under cotton cultivation in Maharashtra, more than any state in the country. Yet the state also tops the list in farmer suicides. Almost all of them are cotton farmers.

In 2005, the Maharashtra government announced the Chief Minister's package of 1075 crores. In 2006, came the Prime Minister's package of 3750 crores, of which 2200 crores was meant to boost irrigation.

But the targets could not be met.

Nitin Chaudhury, an activist, said, "Because of land acquisition and administrative issues, many projects were held up. So the amount allotted for that was stuck."

With only 4 per cent irrigated land in Vidarbha despite a large chunk of the PM's package being set aside for irrigation, the question being asked is, were both central and state government packages temporary solutions to a long term problem.

The lack of irrigation impacts production. Vidarbha produces 2 quintals of cotton per acre, against the national average of 5 quintals per acre. Electricity, available for just 8 hours a day, also impacts productivity. The price of 3300 rupees per quintal set by the centre this year barely covers the farmers' costs.

No wonder farmers are agitating across Vidarbha demanding a higher minimum support price for cotton. They also ask why export is banned when production is high.

With the top political leadership of the state coming from West Maharashtra, the call of Vidarbha's farmers may remain unheard?

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