Mellow autumn, the queen of seasons, is now under way. The dark, rain-bearing clouds have retreated. But the clouds of gwing anxiety are hanging heavy over farmers’ heads. If the first wave of floods raged through their fields in Jeth (May-June), successive waves during Bhado (Aug-Sept) was the double whammy which broke their backs. Through district after district in flood-hit Assam, the same tragic story is unfolding. If the earlier floods rampaged through their bao paddy, the later floods swept away the sali paddy to leave the fields buried under thick layers of sandy deposit. For the farmer, it will now be a grim struggle to clear the land and raise rabi crops in the dry season. After all, it is always a daunting prospect to make flood-ravaged lands fit for cultivation during drought in a State with zero irrigation support. Thanks to the limitless velity of the Irrigation department, a measly 2 per cent cultivable land has come under irrigation in over six decades. As for the Agriculture department, the less said the better. In agrarian Assam, the Agriculture department comes into the news with ‘high yielding’ seeds yielding husk rather than grain, lime that does not fertilise the soil, pump-sets clandestinely sent over the border to Bangladesh, sundry agricultural aids procured at crimilly inflated prices that never reach the farmer.
In the midst of this pervasive gloom, two farmers have chosen to end their lives in the last one-and-half months — one at Bhabanipur in Barpeta district, the other at Tihu in lbari district. After seeing their crops destroyed one after the other and neck-deep in debt, Tarap Ali and Dibakar Kalita took the ultimate step. The Chief Minister and other senior ministers have rushed to mouth platitudes, order a probe and calling upon farmers to tell deputy commissioners about their problems. Surely this is laughable in a State where DC’s offices are high-security labyrinths off limits to commoners, where a working agricultural policy and framework are missing, where the CM talks dreamily of ‘smart’ villages. Is the State government keeping honest and accurate record of farmer suicides? Figures furnished by the tiol Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that Dispur has nothing to be complacent about — with as many as 3,908 farmers in the State killing themselves in the 15 years from 2000 to 2014.
The pains of the tiller of the soil is beyond the ken of most other common people, but rising prices hit them all below the belt. Inflation may be under control in the rest of the country, but that stops right at the borders of Assam. Within the State, the prices of almost all essential commodities and foodstuffs remain high, as they have been for months. The civil supplies department continues to be a silent spectator, as it has been in more than 14 years of Tarun Gogoi’s reign. Lentils and oilseeds remain priced far above Rs 100 per kg and onion is still costly, ostensibly because unseasol rains damaged crops in central and western India; prices of vegetables have not come down in months due to floods in the State. When markets are cornered by middlemen, hoarders and syndicates, such are the glib excuses consumers get to hear. With the onset of the festive season, the situation is worse with the markets on fire. Chi-made artificial lights, decorations and toys, clothes and consumer goods produced in other parts of the country are draining away money from the State in crores. While people in the State get ready to celebrate the festive season, it would do well to ask how much of what we enjoy are being produced in the State. It would be even more pertinent to ask how our real producers, the farmers, are ploughing a lone furrow without any institutiol support. The Tarun Gogoi government may talk of schemes at the drop of a hat, but these are benefiting neither the farmer nor the common man.