KALAPANI (BARGARH): Brunda Sahu does not figure in the public memory anymore. The only place this share-cropper probably could be found is on the internet. His was a story of desperation. On October 30, 2017 he set fire to his crop infested by brown plant hoppers. The next day, he consumed poison. By now, he is long dead. Just like his story is. Dead and long forgotten.
About nine kilometres from Bargarh town, by the National Highway 53, Brunda’s widow Subashini lives with her son Rajesh and daughter Priti. Nothing has changed about the family. The house, of un-plastered brick walls and asbestos roof, stands testimony to their forgotten tale.
Rajesh is a young man torn between two worlds – an ad hoc job with the RMC where he gets `280 a day. He works his time so that he can cultivate the six acre land his father used to till as a share-cropper. Twenty-year-old Priti, a Plus Three Final year student at Attabira College, studies History. She takes private tuition so that the family earning is supplemented.
Across large tracts of western Odisha pockets where drought is an assured occurrence with irrigation hard to come by, farmer suicide is an annual affair. And, farmers are a mere vote bank. They are lured with assurances and schemes. Nothing changes their plight.
Brunda Sahu’s family has experienced it. Since November 1, 2017, all that they have come across are promises. Union Agriculture Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat who visited them had assured four decimal land, a dwelling unit under Prime Minister Awas Yojana and scholarship for Priti. They are still waiting.
The district administration’s support came in shape of an ex gratia from Red Cross when Brunda Sahu died followed by a funeral assistance. The job with RMC happened last year.
Rajesh, who had a motorcycle workshop when his father was alive, switched to farming. With meagre finances, he has to borrow from pesticide suppliers. The cost of seeds, fertiliser and pesticides is covered from the loan. Add the labour costs too.
“The lending rate is three per cent per month. You need a good harvest to be able to pay back. Thankfully, I got the minimum support price of `1,750 per quintal for paddy,” Rajesh says.
For small farmers and share-croppers across this region, the story is more or less the same. The pesticide supplier becomes the money lender in absence of institutional credit. Forget farm insurance for share-croppers like Rajesh.
KALIA, the much-hyped cash benefit scheme of the State Government, has not brought cheers for many farmers. Rajesh says his mother’s name is on the list but she has not received any assistance. Travel to Bijepur and landless farmer Biranchi Sahu will tell you the same about KALIA. His bigger problem is irrigation though because the whole area is situated on a higher ground and canal water does not reach them. The State Government announced Gangadhar Meher Mega Irrigation Project at `1,250 crore and set up an office. Tenders have been floated but work has not gone far.
Naturally, farmers are lured by loan waiver and hiked MSP plans of Congress but still unsure. BJP has the PM-Kisan scheme which is yet to be rolled out in this part. Once the polls are over, all that the farmers would have is uncertainty and unknown days. Rajesh would concur.