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'Gehlot government is non-functional'

By PRASANNA D ZORE
August 13, 2020 18:55 IST
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'While farmers are reeling under a huge debt burden, crop loss due to locust attacks and erratic rainfall, the state is also facing A COVID-19 challenge.'
'In this situation, you have Congress and BJP MLAs trying to outwit each other in a game of thrones.'

IMAGE: A farmer in Rajasthan's Shri Dungargarh town in Bikaner district banging thalis to drive away locusts.
Standing crops in Bikaner, Barmer, Jaisalmer and Jodhpur districts were damaged in locust attacks Photographs and Video: Kind courtesy Girdharilal Mahiya

Girdharilal Mahiya is a Communist Party of India-Marxist member of the Rajasthan assembly.

The MLA from Bikaner's locust-hit Shri Dungargarh constituency has consistently raised the issue of locust attacks on standing crops in Rajasthan's Barmer, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur and other border districts.

But neither the state government led by Congress Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot nor Narendra Damodardas Modi's central government have taken cognisance of the menace caused by these attacks, says Mahiya.

"The locust attacks are very much like the coronavirus pandemic, but the two governments are busy buying and selling MLAs to establish their power supremacy in Rajasthan," Mahiya tells Rediff.com's Prasanna D Zore.

IMAGE: A locust attack.

What is the crop damage because of locust attacks in Bikaner, Barmer, Jaisalmer?

Cotton, bajra, groundnut and guar crops have been completely damaged because of locust attacks.

But neither the central nor state government took any preventive measures to stop the menace.

Now after the damage has been done they are not showing any urgency in assessing the loss suffered by the farmers in the border regions where locust attacks have been concentrated.

No government has ever focused on dealing with the locust problems at its roots.

The state had a department to deal with the problem of locusts, but that has been merged with other departments for want of funds.

The state government's agriculture ministry currently looks after the management of locust attacks.

There had been long periods when there were no locust attacks in the region. To save costs, the money that funded prevention of locust attacks and compensation of loss after the attacks were diverted to solve other agricultural problems. The locust department was merged with other related departments.

When locust attacks happened in the 1970s and 1980s camps would be set up every few kilometres to monitor their movement along the border areas and deal with their menace. All that is seen nowhere now.

We have sent several petitions to both the central and governments to set up unified command centres to monitor locusts movements and do whatever to stop crop damage.

The danger is still lurking. While these locust attacks were quite few in the last few years, due to climate change and various other factors, the frequency of such attacks have increased recently.

But there is no coordination between the governments or among various departments of the Rajasthan government in how to avoid farm damage every year because of these attacks.

What is the extent of crop damage that the farmers in Shri Dungargarh suffered because of the locust attacks this year?

You can safely assume that my constituency has about 20,000 tube wells. One tubewell caters to 25 hectares of agricultural land.

Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bikaner, Churu, Nagore, Ganganagar, have all faced crop damage because of these attacks.

80 per cent of standing agricultural crops, including those fed by tubewells and the monsoon, could have been destroyed during the attacks this year.

Cattle feed in these areas have also been devoured by these locusts.

The locust attacks are very much like the coronavirus pandemic, but the two governments are busy buying and selling MLAs to establish their power supremacy in Rajasthan.

Tubewell connections of farmers are being disconnected because they are unable to pay their electricity bills.

If you were to evaluate the cost of agricultural production in various parts of India, I can bet on it that Bikaner would rank as the costliest place for producing farm crops.

I have been repeatedly raising this issue on the floor of the house, but those interested in power politics have blindfolds on their eyes and plugs in their ears.

Nobody takes the farmers seriously. Nobody hears their voices.

Most farmers in our region have their farmlands mortgaged with lending institutions and banks.

Farmers here owe huge moneys to the banks. If not today, then tomorrow; if not tomorrow then the day after; I can assure you that farmers in this region will soon become landless.

If they won't service their loans or make payments towards it, why would banks not take away their lands to recover their dues?

This is the fate of farmers in the north and west of Rajasthan.

SEE: How farmers in Bikaner use traditional methods to drive away the locusts and save their crops:

 

 

How are the farmers in your region coping?

They have been turned into beggars. They are left with have no choice, but to beg and borrow to repay their monthly installments.

Half of their fields have been ploughed and half are still barren.

Whatever standing crop they had has been damaged by locust attacks.

To further worsen the situation the rainfall this year is also very erratic causing further damage to their crops.

These farmers have now become labourers enlisting their names for MNREGA jobs.

Farmers are jobless today.

As for MNREGA, the government has now increased compulsory work days from 100 to 150 to 200 now, but our request is that MNREGA jobs should be available throughout the year, at least till the time the pandemic gets over.

It is because of the money earned from MNREGA jobs that you can see some buying and selling happening in the rural mandis of Rajasthan or else the economic windmill would have completely come to a standstill.

Without MNREGA, the rural economy in India would have collapsed.

The MNREGA funds that people are making every day has come in handy to oil the rural mandis.

This money not only helps run marginal and small households, but also provide the necessary liquidity to small shopkeepers and mandis in rural India.

While the farmers are reeling under a huge debt burden, crop loss due to locust attacks and erratic rainfall, the state is also facing a COVID-19 challenge.

In this situation, you have Congress and BJP MLAs trying to outwit each other in a game of thrones.

Nobody seems to be concerned about the farmers.

Even when the national media focused on the problem of locust attacks, neither the state nor central governments took it seriously.

They are not worried about the damage done to farmers's crops. They are not interested if farmers live or die, but they will go to any extent to save their governments.

While the Congress is desperate to save its government in the state and spending crores to safekeep its MLAs in expensive resorts, the BJP is offering crores to destabilise the Gehlot government and bring in its own government.

When they are so occupied with saving their own chairs, how can we expect them to save farmers' lives?

You expect the farmers to maintain social distancing when they come out to protest against electricity connection cuts, non-availability of means of livelihoods and fertilisers, but they conveniently forget about corona when they have to protest against the governor inside Raj Bhavan.

Which party will the two CPI-M MLAs support if the Gehlot government is forced to prove its majority in the assembly?

I have already clarified that I will go by what my party decides. We are with the people of Rajasthan.

As it is, the government is non-functional right now.

It has not taken any decisions that will solve the issues of farmers. The government is being run from hotels and resorts.

Let's hope now that Sachin Pilot is on his way back. It will provide stability to the Congress government and they will help the farmers who are distressed due to several reasons in the state.

Whatever expectations people had from the Gehlot or Modi governments have not been met. Instead, both the parties are adopting anti-farmer policies.

They get huge funds from corporates to run their election campaigns so they cater to their whims.

They are least concerned about the fate of farmers in Rajasthan.

My election campaign was funded by the people of Shri Dungargarh. People voted for me because they trust the CPI-M and Girdharilal Mahiya to raise issues of their welfare and fight for them.

More farmers should enter the political arena to get their problems solved.

We cannot leave such issues to corporate-funded politicians.

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PRASANNA D ZORE / Rediff.com
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