Mumbai: Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, on a tour of the drought-hit Marathwada region of his state, was stunned today when a farmer told him, "Pay me for my sugarcane or I will commit suicide."
The Chief Minister was addressing farmers in a village in Parbhani district, when the farmer Madhav Bhalerao got up and said he has not been paid for his produce for the last six months by a factory in the area owned by Pankaja Munde, a prominent minister in Mr Fadnavis' cabinet.
"It's six months now that we have not been paid and no one is willing to speak at the sugar factory," Mr Bhalerao said, as hundreds of other farmers and government officials gaped.
The chief minister assured Mr Bhalerao that would be paid soon.
Not long after, Ms Munde's office told NDTV that while they were not sure if Mr Bhalerao has supplied sugarcane to the minister's factory, it would honour 50 per cent of its pending payments in the next one or two months.
The gaunt desperation of Mr Bhalerao's petition underscores the plight of sugarcane farmers caught in a deep sugar industry crisis. Surplus production and a fall in prices has led to huge losses for sugar factories, which have defaulted on payments to farmers.
The farmers' struggle is compounded in drought-prone Marathwada, as sugarcane is a water-guzzling crop.
Mr Fadnavis is touring the region for three days, assessing the effect of this year's failed monsoon. His office says the 44-year-old chief minister has been working 20 hours a day hopping from village to village assuring farmers that arrangements for water, fodder and employment have been made.
"It has never happened that in the month of August, fodder camps have been set up. That's how severe the drought is," Mr Fadnavis said today, referring to government camps where farmers can feed their cattle for free.
He also announced today that the government would pay for the education of farmers' children who study in cities.