KALPETTA (WAYANAD): Will Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency give Congress chief Rahul Gandhi an opportunity to prove that he is a leader who delivers on his promises, especially to the farmers? This question has now become a hot topic of debate in Wayanad, the epicentre of farm distress in Kerala.
The massive roadshow by Rahul Gandhi after filing his nomination papers in Wayanad has propelled the hopes of farmers who have landed in debt traps following the mid-August floods. With Rahul’s entry, the hilly constituency has gained national attention and this is an opportunity to highlight the issues here, say local leaders and farmers.
Robert NS, a local body member in Thiruvambadi grama panchayat, said Rahul’s presence can usher in changes on the development front here.
“The region, which is dominated by farmers and tribals, is considered a backward area. Rahul can resolve the issues concerning the farmers as it is one of its poll planks at the national level. Besides, Congress has announced many projects, including loan waivers to the farmers,” he said.
If farmers and others see Rahul as a saviour, there are several factors, tells Ramakrishnan N K, a local farmer.
“The price fall and huge debts have put farmers in distress. As many as 700 farmers have committed suicide since September last year after they failed to repay bank loans,” he says.
The latest in the spate of suicides is that of VB Krishna Kumar, 55, on March 29, after he failed to repay a Rs 3.5 lakh loan availed from a cooperative bank.
According to the farmers, Wayanad is the biggest producer and exporter of coffee and pepper in the country.
As per the figures, coffee is being cultivated on 59,000 hectares while pepper is being cultivated on 25,000 hectares.
“However, farmers are getting only Rs 50 per kg for coffee. Earlier they used to get about Rs 120-150 per kg. In the case of pepper, from Rs 1,250 per kg, the farmers are now getting only Rs 350 a kg,” says Balakrishnan, a farmer and employee of a cooperative bank.
The farmers in Wayanad region are descendants of those who migrated from central Kerala. They are now settled mainly in Kalpetta, Sultan Bathery, Mananthavady, Nilambur and Thiruvambadi area.
Another major election issue here is the havoc wrought by the floods and landslides on the district last year.
Several residents in Wayanad lost home and property and several farmers lost expensive cash crops. Farmers say the rehabilitation programme has not reached anywhere.