Two suicides, one tale: Maharashtra farmers' agonising wait for compensation after fury of August 2019 floods

  • All over western Maharashtra, villages echo the same stories of mounting losses.

  • Their homes and fields destroyed in the August 2019 floods, families now face financial ruin and an increasingly desperate future.

  • Two suicides in Kolhapur district's Shirol taluka, bear testimony to farmers' desperate circumstances.

Raosaheb Mali faced an agonising decision.  In the first week of September 2019, as the floodwaters finally receded from Kolhapur’s Terwad village, the 42-year-old had to sell his cattle — three cows, two buffaloes. His acquaintances say Raosaheb loved the animals, but the family’s home had collapsed in the deluge and the cattle shed was the only place they had to stay in.

It would soon become evident what these misfortunes had cost Raosaheb. In the early hours of 21 September, he committed suicide by hanging, in a cousin’s cattle shed. His was the first reported case of suicide after the floods in Shirol taluka, known for its sugarcane production.

 Two suicides, one tale: Maharashtra farmers agonising wait for compensation after fury of August 2019 floods

Vishal Mali holds a photo of his father, Raosaheb Mali.

The 2019 August floods ravaged hundreds of villages in the districts of Sangli, Kolhapur, and Satara in Western Maharashtra. Terwad was one among them.

The three Mali brothers collectively own three acres of land, which Raosaheb looked after. “The sugarcane [we cultivated] was completely submerged in water for eight days,” says his son Vishal, 20. “It’s completely destroyed.”

The Mali family estimates the loss of their crop at about 150 tonnes (approximately worth Rs 4.5 lakhs). Like hundreds of other farmers, the Malis too await compensation for their destroyed crops.

The three-acre sugarcane field owned by the Mali family was completely ravaged by the August flood.

The three-acre sugarcane field owned by the Mali family was completely ravaged by the August flood.

They aren’t sure of how much of a loan Raosaheb had taken from the cooperative society. “My father never told us about it. He never troubled us,” says Vishal, who dropped out of Class 10 to work odd jobs and now drives a tractor. An older brother, Vaibhav, 22, works as a labourer on a contract basis with Indian Railways.

“After the floods, my father started secluding himself from others. Mauch rahat hote (he was despondent),” Vishal says.

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As per the agriculture department office of the Shirol Panchayat Samiti, the August 2019 floods destroyed 23,000 hectares of land in the taluka. Of this, sugarcane was cultivated on 20,300 hectares of land. The department states that all reports concerning flood-affected people were submitted to the district administration in November.

Several villages in Kolhapur district echo the same stories of mounting losses. Immediately after the floods, fodder rates skyrocketed because of scarce availability. Bhagat Gaikwad, a farmer from Jambhali village in Shirol taluka, says, “A pinda (50 kg sack) fodder was sold for Rs 1,500 in September. How will a farmer afford this? Now the rates have come down to Rs 1,100.”

A collapsed house in Rajapurwadi village of Shirol taluka, Kolhapur district.

A collapsed house in Rajapurwadi village of Shirol taluka, Kolhapur district.

Having received no compensation so far, farmers are reeling under the pressure of raising urgent funds for their rabi crop, usually cultivated over October-November in Shirol taluka. Many like the Mali family must wait for the sugar mill to cut their crops immediately, so they can start the next planting cycle.

A Maharashtra Times report puts the number of homes in the Kolhapur district (partially or fully) destroyed during the August floods at 41,034. Shirol taluka was the worst affected in the district, with 11,275 homes destroyed (partially or fully). However, no compensation has been received by the families to rebuild their homes, forcing the displaced to seek rental accommodation — a financial burden they can ill-afford.

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In Shirdhon village, Shirol taluka, 58-year-old Tukaram Mane’s farm was devastated three times by extreme rainfall.

Tukaram was in the habit of waking up at 3 am every day. He would boil water for the family, then visit the temple. On 18 November too, he performed his morning chore, just as usual. But when his grandsons went to the cattle-shed at around 6 am, they found Tukaram hanging.

The Mane family cultivated sugarcane on an acre of land in June 2019, for which they had spent around Rs 30,000. The August 2019 floods ravaged the field, which was submerged for 15 days. After the floodwater receded in the last week of August, Tukaram spent Rs 5,000 on insecticides and began cultivating sugarcane again. This time, he spent another Rs 20,000 on the crop. However, the incessant and heavy rains destroyed the crop again.

In September, he once more brought in a few sugarcane ropes, spending around Rs 8,000. The rains destroyed the field.

With the delay in cleaning up the villages, people were forced to burn the waste left after the floodwater receded.

With the delay in cleaning up the villages, people were forced to burn the waste left after the floodwater receded.

Tukaram’s wife Sunanda, 53, says, “The ropes are still kept alongside the field. We will plant them once we’ve enough money to buy the fertilisers and pesticides.” Before Sunanda can start farming though, there’s another major challenge. “We haven’t renewed the pani patti (water supply scheme) for this year. It costs Rs 8,000. How will we cultivate any crop without water?” she wonders.

“The panchnama (official documentation of destruction caused) for our field was done in August. We haven’t received any compensation to date,” says Sunanda. In the 2005 floods, the Manes lost 2,500 kg of soyabean. “At least we got some compensation back then. This time, we don’t know if we will get anything,” she frets.

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Sunanda recalls that in the first week of November, she asked Tukaram to go to the farm and look after the crops. “I won’t go to the farm. Don’t ask me to go there,” is what he told her. The evening before he committed suicide, the family had dinner together. “He hadn’t been talking properly for a week,” Sunanda says. “But we never anticipated that he would commit suicide.”

Tukaram had an outstanding loan of Rs 77,000 from the co-operative society. To supplement their income, Tukaram also worked as a sugarcane-cutting labourer for four months a year in Shirdhon. “We don’t know how much money he had taken from the contractors in advance this year,” says Sunanda. “The contractors haven’t visited our house yet, but they will soon ask for repayment.”

His son Bajrang died in 2017 aged 29, in a vehicle accident. The responsibility of looking after the farm has now fallen to daughter-in-law, Seema. For the past two months, Seema, 30, has been working in the garment industry in Shirdhon, where she gets Rs 2,000 monthly for seven hours of work daily.

With barely enough to make ends meet, the Manes are having to cut risky corners. Sunanda takes her blood pressure medication just once a day instead of her prescribed dosage because the family cannot spare the Rs 500 it would otherwise cost to purchase her medicines.

Deepak Mhaisekar, divisional commissioner — Pune, was quoted as saying that 56 people had died in the floods in Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara, Solapur and Pune. “In 12 talukas of Kolhapur district, 1,02,557 families from 375 villages were affected by the floods, of which 69,299 was the rural population while 33,258 was urban,” he stated.

Farmers and agricultural labourers in the flood-affected districts of Kolhapur and Sangli are finding it difficult to get work because the fields have been destroyed. This in turn has led to forced migrations to bigger cities.

“Who looks after poor farmers like us?” asks Sunanda. She answers her own question: “No one.”

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Updated Date: Dec 22, 2019 09:52:11 IST