Mumbai : As many as 124 farmers have committed suicide in Maharashtra since January this year, the State government today informed the Bombay High Court which asked the Centre what kind of assistance it provides to the state to deal with the grim agrarian crisis.

Observing that this was a serious issue, a bench headed by Justice Naresh Patil asked the Additional Solicitor General to inform the High Court on the next occasion whether the Centre can chip in to provide schemes and financial help to the state to tide over the crisis.

“The figure is very alarming…in a span of one and half months, 124 farmers have killed themselves. We would like to know from the government what steps are being taken to stop this,” said Justice Patil.

Advocate General Srihari Aney informed the bench that 124 farmers have taken their lives in the past one-and-half month, of whom 20 cases were reported from Osmanabad alone. The high court was hearing a suo motu public interest litigation urging to take steps on a war-footing to prevent farmers from committing suicide.

Last week, the government had informed that 80 farmers had committed suicide in January 2016. However, today, the State government said that 124 farmers had taken the extreme step in the past 45 days.

The AG said factors such as crop failure due to scanty rainfall, meagre water supply for drinking and growing crops, insufficient capacity to repay loans and pressure from banks and money lenders were the causes that drove the farmers to commit suicide.

The AG was of the view that a high level Disaster Management committee headed by Deputy Collector should be set up to find out the reasons for the farmers being driven to such a drastic step and also provide financial assistance to the bereaved families.

Taking cue from the high court bench that corporates should be involved in adopting villages and providing financial help, the AG suggested that representatives of big companies could be drawn in as members of the disaster committee.

He said that Maharashtra government would come forward to pay Rs 30,000 to the family of every farmer who has committed suicide so that they can get some financial help.

Referring to media reports, the court enquired from the government whether it had decided to close down fodder depots in the state. To this, a government pleader said he would have to seek instructions from the state.

The Court, in the morning session, had asked AG to appear in the case today itself and explain the steps the state government had taken to deal with the situation.

When the court re-assembled, farm-related issues like cattle death due to paucity of drinking water and short supply of fodder also figured in the proceedings.

Due to drought like situation in many parts of the state, water was not released from irrigation dams resulting in acute water scarcity in agricultural fields. Moreover, insufficient rains further aggravated the problem, the AG told the court.

On January 21, 2016, the state government had told the court that 1,000 farmers had committed suicide in Maharashtra in 2015. Hearing this, the high court suggested the government to rope-in corporates to deal with the crisis.

The court had earlier suggested that big business houses should be urged either to adopt villages or provide equipment, including tractors, to the farmers for free. The court had also suggested that the government may promote collective farming as a solution. It would especially help the farmers with small land-holding which are unable to recover the cost of cultivation, it said and asked the state to come out with welfare schemes for farmers.

The government also informed that the Centre had sanctioned Rs 3,500 crore for helping the distressed farmers in Maharashtra, while the state allocated Rs 2,500 crore. Of this, Rs 14.34 crore has been disbursed so far.

Ashutosh Kumbhkoni, appointed as amicus curiae to assist the court, had earlier said that according to the National Bureau of Crime Records, 15,978 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra in the last five years. The bench has now asked the Additional Solicitor General to find out from the Centre what kind of help it can provide to Maharashtra to tackle the issue of farmers’ suicide.

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