MITIGATING FARMERS' DISTRESS

 

BY E. Z. KHOBRAGADE
(IAS - Retd., Founder - Sanvidhan Foundation & Founder President of MOF )

The fax reached to Collectorate Wardha stating that  the Prime Minister of India would be visiting the district on 30th June 2006. I had only 7-8 days in hand for making elaborate arrangements. 

A month ago, I had taken over as  Collector of Wardha district. Farmer’s distress was a main issue and concern of all. Government of Maharashtra had already announced Farmer’s Package of Rs. 1074 crores for the suicide affected six district of Vidarbha. Wardha being one and only district from Nagpur division. After taking over ,in first week of June 2006 , I had already finalized a few campaigns and programs to boost up morale of farmers, giving benefit of package to needy farmers thereby trying to prevent suicides. 

 The Prime Minister’s stay in the district was for 6 hours. The program indicated visit to Sevagram Ashram, Bapu Kuti and interaction with farmers at village Waifad. Normally, village is selected in consultation with district administration. But Waifad was finalized at PMO level. Wardha district has a history of National Freedom Movement and named as Gandhi district because of stay of Rashtra Pita Mahatma Gandhi at Sevagram, Acharya Vinoba Bhave started Bhoodan Movement from Paonar. The district is under the influence of life & mission of these two great personalities. May be the reason, the district is totally declared prohibited i.e. free from liquor. However, it is a big question about the dryness of the district. 

The Prime Minister’s visit was with specific purpose and concern. To meet farmer suicide affected families to share their sorrows, console them  to know the real reasons behind the farmers  suicides and adequate measures to be taken. The purpose was also to boost up moral of people assuring that Government is concerned to welfare of farmers and suicide is not a solution to the problems faced by farmers.

Keeping in view the rainy days,the district administration had made all arrangements. Two helipad sites were kept ready, one at Sevagram and other at vicinity of Waifad village.The Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister spoke to me and said "Mr. Khobragade, Prime Minister is coming to your district. Visit at Village Waifad is the main programme. Identify 2-3 families where Prime Minister would like to home visit. Also arrange interaction with a group of 30-35 farmers at some place , school etc. for interaction. The possible presentation should be very simple. The Principal Secretary further said take easy, do not worry, we are here to help you. Do not hesitate to talk to us." This really reduced our tension to great extent and helped us making proper arrangements.

On the day 30th June 2006, as district Collector of the district, I received the Prime Minister at Sevagram helipad. It was a thrilling experience to meet the Prime Minister. The VVIP’s from Centre & State had accompanied the Prime Minister. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra was with Prime Minister.

After visiting Sevagram Ashram, Bapu Kuti, the Prime Minister took rest in a simple room available there. The lunch was also at the Ashram premises. We had Circuit house, however, Ashram premises were preferred for lunch and rest. This simplicity had set an example before all of us to practice the teaching of Mahatma Gandhi. We, officers were simply charged by the very approach of our Prime Minister. 

As scheduled, the Prime Minister arrived at village Waifad, visited houses of two distressed families and interacted with them, then procceded to  school where meet with farmers was arranged. As advised by the Principle Secretary to Prime Minister, the arrangement was very simple. The Chief Minister of Maharashtra welcomed the Prime Minister and initiated the discussion. The interaction continued for an hour. The Prime Minister listened to everyone gathered there, very patiently and assured help to the farmers in all possible ways. The distress being faced by farmers made Prime Minister restless. 

On 1st July 2006 the meeting was arranged at Raj Bhavan. All collectors of the 11 districts of Vidarbha were to give presentation on 'Bharat Nirman' . Important dignitaries viz. Central Ministers, Members of Planning Commission, Chief Minister/ Dy. Chief Minister and Ministers from State were present. The then Divisional Commissioner, Amravati gave presentation on Farmer Suicides and all related agrarian issues. 

Then came the turn of Collectors to present 'Bharat Nirman' of their districts. Chief Secretary announced the district name. When Wardha  district  was  announced, at the outset, as Collector of District, I expressed my gratitude to the Prime Minister on behalf of the people of Wardha District for the visit of Prime Minister to Sevagram and interaction with farmers at Waifad. I presented  Bharat  Nirman with the help of 10 slides. The focus was on (1) Rural road (2) Rural water supply (3) Rural electricity (4) Rural telephone connections  (5) Education to all  (6) Rural health and (7) Waste land / forest land etc. 

The more important thing I noticed was that the Prime Minister very patiently saw the presentations of all eleven collectors and also participated in the discussion. It was so charging and motivating to all of us. The Prime Minister listened to all, gave enough time and encouraged even if mistaken. This was really a great and unforgettable event in the life of we civil servants. 

The Prime Minister package of Rs. 3750 crores was announced. The package was for preventing the farmers suicides. We all officers in the district started working whole heartedly to  take package to the door of farmers with mission mode and make Wardha 'Farmer suicide-free District'. We launched the campaign, following few to name --

(1) awareness campaign to reach out to the farmers with Prime Minister & Chief Minister package benefit
(2) regular consolation visit to the farmer suicide families by designated officers
(3) interaction with farmers at village level through Shetkari Doot
(4) Shetkari Atma Samman Prayer at all Primary-middle-secondary Schools
(5) Active participation of college students in awareness campaign 'Shetkari  Atma  Sanman Campaign'
(6) Release of short film “Tuch Mah Sarkar” mitigating farmer’s distress  
(7) Participation of Youths of National Social Service & Nehru Yuva Kendra Sanghatan in awareness program
(8) Grievance Redressal of farmers at village level- in 'Gao Bhet' programme by Collector, Superintendent of Police , Chief Executive Officer jointly with participation of Taluka level officials
(9) Involvement of the NGOs , Social workers and many more supporting to farmer community
(10) Implementation of Prime Minister and Chief Minister package in effective and better way
(11) “Kranti Saptah” a programme “Jung-A-Azadi” from Kranti Din to Swatantrata Divas 
(12) Disbursement of loan to farmers 
(13) Workshops/deliberations for Sensatization of Govt. officials
(14) Sought active participation of social workers, media persons, Teachers, professors youths and women SHG’s etc. 

 We the officials of district administration not only worked sincerely and honestly but with great degree of sensitivity. In the process, there  might be some omissions/commissions and also some mistakes, because we worked for 24 x 7 with a mission  goal of 'Suicide free District'. As a Collector, I visited 302 villages. On an average, one village for every working day ,of my short tenure of 18 months. The visit of Prime Minister and Chief Minister of 30th June 2006 gave us inspiration and strength to do excellant job. We dedicate our success to the farmers fraternity and admit failures to ourselves. The period of 18 months as Collector was not at all satisfying period.

We were also previledged to successfully arrange the visit of Hon. President of India and Vice President of India, beside the Governor of Maharashtra & Bihar, Chief Minister of Maharashtra during my tenure. These visits motivated us to do better service to farmers of district  and mitigate their sorrows. Myself  and Superintendent of Police had an opportunity to freely interact with the then President of India (Hon.APJ Abdul Kalam) for 15 minutes during quiet lunch on the issue of farmer’s distress. This was inspiring.

On 1st July 2007, we launched innovative program Mahila Vahini and Lokshahi Din exclusively for women with the objective to seek active participation of women in developmental program and particularly to prevent the farmers suicide, empowerment of women etc. 

We also released the documentary A year of package highlighting the awareness program we launched and achievements we made. Dr. Mungekar the member of Planning Commission reviewed the package, saw the documentary and appreciated our efforts.

For the first 5-6 months after visit of Prime Minister to Wardha, around 70-80 farmers used to meet District Collector everyday asking agriculture loans and other benefits. The last sentence of every petition was a threat to Collector, give loan or we commit suicide. Just imagine our plight. Despite tremendous pressure, humiliation, threat of action, we did our best and this is a self-satisfying fact.

 

(E.Z. Khobragade is a retired IAS officer who has worked at various posts such as SDO, CEO, Collector in government services. He has worked diligently to inform citizens about various government schemes. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and his writings have been a major inspiration for him through all these years.)

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