Will the Budget offer some solace to farm widows?

T V Jayan New Delhi | Updated on January 29, 2020 Published on January 28, 2020

Veerpal Kaur

Vidya More

They await a comprehensive relief and rehabilitation package from the Centre

“The governments here have been asleep for far too long. They should listen to us and solve our problems. If they can’t, they should just go,” thundered Vidya More, a 38-year-old farmer widow from Osmanabad district of Maharashtra.

Her frustration is understandable; her husband committed suicide about eight years ago when he couldn’t get enough from his two-acre land to take care of his indebtedness. Despite More running from pillar to post, the authorities refused to recognise her husband’s death as a farm suicide, making her ineligible for ex-gratia compensation of ₹1 lakh.

Today, she struggles hard to look after her family — consisting of two school-going children aged 13 and 8. Even though she has been farming the land that has been transferred to her name since her husband’s passing, she has not been getting the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) payout of ₹6,000 per year. “This is despite providing all the documents required,” More said, adding that governments — both at the Centre and the State — are quite insensitive to the problems of women farmers in general and farm widows in particular.

Echoing her sentiments is Veerpal Kaur, a 40-year woman farmer from Punjab’s Mansa district, who lost three members of her family — her husband, father and father-in-law — to farm distress. Kaur even contested the last Lok Sabha elections from Bhatinda constituency as an independent candidate to highlight the issue of farmer suicides. A mother of two, Kaur wants the government to take care of the children’s education, give her family a house and pay them the compensation of ₹3 lakhthat is rightfully theirs.

Mahila meeting

More and Kaur were among 20-odd farm widows who attended a two-day meeting organised by the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM), a collective platform of civil society organisations struggling to secure women farmers’ rights, to highlight the woes faced by these women farmers.

Addressing the media, Seema Kulkarni, a key MAKAAM functionary based in Pune, said the Centre should announce a minimum slab of support to these farm widows, allocate funds, and reopen all pending cases, even those that were not investigated from 2010 onwards.

Apart from giving these women farmers comprehensive relief and rehabilitation, the government should take preventive measures to ensure that the phenomenon of farm suicides is stemmed.

“State governments can add to whatever the Centre has announced and give additionally to these women farmers,” Kulakarni said, adding that there are some best practices — even though only a few — for the governments to follow. She listed an insurance scheme that pays a sum of ₹3 lakh to the families of farmers who died, launched by the Telangana government.

She also cited call centres operated by a few Telangana districts to alleviate distress and prevent farmers from taking the extreme step, as well as the high compensation of ₹7 lakh paid by Andhra Pradesh as some of these initiatives.

According to MAKAAM, only 20-50 per cent of the farm suicides in different States get any sort of official recognition and support. They hoped the forthcoming Union Budget would have provisions to support their lives and livelihoods.

Significantly, officials from the Agriculture Ministry and Women & Child Development Ministry were conspicuous by their absence from the consultation. However, a few State government representatives flew down to the capital to participate.

Minister of State for Agriculture Parshottam Rupala, however, assured a delegation from MAKAAM on Monday that the Centre would look into the demands for women farmers, while the National Commission for Women promised a national consultation next month to understand their woes and hold similar meetings at the State level together with State commissions subsequently.

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Published on January 28, 2020
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