Nagpur : Thousands of paddy cultivators in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, considered more worse-off than farmers elsewhere, are set to hold a rally Saturday led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Shobhatai Fadnavis to draw attention to their sorry plight.
Spread mainly over Bhandara, Gondia, Chandrapur and Gadchiroli districts of eastern Vidarbha, nearly 200,000 paddy growers are fighting all odds for decades on end cumulatively resulting in a loss of up to Rs.4,000 per acre with no one to pay heed or effectively amplify their voice.
“Eking returns no more than Rs.6,000 per acre as against an expenditure of Rs.10,000, paddy cultivators in this part of Maharashtra are finding survival increasingly difficult,” said Fadnavis.
The fourth-term legislator from Chandrapur district’s Mul-Sawli assembly constituency – she held the food and civil supplies portfolio in the 1995-99 Shiv Sena-BJP alliance government in the state, Fadnavis has been fighting for the region’s paddy cultivators for the last two decades.
The sheet-anchor of what is billed as a mammoth 300,000-paddy growing farmers’ rally in adjoining Bhandara district’s Sakoli town, Fadnavis said her crusade went beyond party politics.
“Convincing the party’s national leadership of the need to take up the issue was the first step of my success; securing a price of Rs.1,200 per quintal for rice is the ultimate objective of the agitation that will continue well beyond tomorrow’s rally,” Fadnavis told IANS.
Senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani, the party’s national general secretary Gopinath Munde and state unit president Nitin Gadkari are slated to address the rally.
“As against 100 percent irrigation that the crop needs, only 17 percent is available in these eastern Vidarbha districts that produce the best quality Chinnor and Basmati rice that is relished in star hotels all over India,” she explained.
While the production cost here is the same as that in Haryana, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and other paddy growing parts of the country, the per acre yield is only 9.17 quintals as against the national average of 14 quintals, she observed citing poor irrigation as the main reason for the low productivity.
“Paddy planters get a loan of Rs.6,000 per acre whereas cotton cultivators get Rs.20,000, sugarcane farmers between Rs.50,000 to Rs.75,000 and grape growers Rs.100,000,” Fadnavis said, highlighting the paltry support price of Rs.648 per quintal as another aspect of the raw deal that the paddy farmers get.
“That (the support price) is when the state agriculture commission has recommended Rs.1,000 based on the production cost,” she pointed out.
Stressing the need for increased fund allocation for the de-silting and upkeep of the over 20,000 traditional ‘malguzari’ tanks in the region apart from the remunerative price, Fadnavis pointed out that paddy farmers in Andhra Pradesh can take three crops a year because of adequate irrigation.
Apart from highlighting the paddy growers’ plight in the rally, the party will also raise the demand for a complete loan waiver for all farmers and lifting of the ban on sale of ‘lakhodi’ dal (lathyrus sativum, a variety of pulses) that is grown in a big way in the region.