As Maharashtra Winter Session begins, question of Vidarbha’s development lingers | Mumbai News


With the Maharashtra Winter Session beginning in Nagpur on Thursday and the ruling and Opposition coalitions looking to engage in one-upmanship ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, it looks like the issues concerning the backward region of Vidarbha will once again be relegated to the margins.

In September 1953, when the Nagpur pact was inked, it was decided that one session of the state Legislative Assembly would take place in Nagpur, the second capital of Maharashtra. The session would be of a minimum six-week duration with the stated objective of discussing the development of Vidarbha.

Over the years, although both ruling and Opposition parties have kept their promise of convening the Winter Session in Nagpur, Vidarbha no longer takes centre stage and is often overshadowed by current developments and politics.

Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who hails from the region, on Wednesday expressed concern about Vidarbha getting a raw deal. “The purpose of the Winter Session was to give justice to the backward regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada. The session is to dwell on the socio-economic challenges confronting the backward regions,” Fadnavis said.

With the state government expecting the Opposition to raise issues related to the Vidarbha region, Fadnavis reiterated his government’s commitment to the cotton belt. “We are ready for a debate on all issues. Unfortunately, the Opposition in the pre-session briefing did not even mention the Vidarbha region, he added.

What are the challenges in Vidarbha?

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Despite loan waivers by successive governments, the agriculture crisis in the Vidarbha region is its biggest concern. With 80 per cent of farmers in Vidarbha falling in the marginal and small farmer categories, the region has earned the unpopular tag of being a ‘farmer suicide belt’.

In 2006, the central government under then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had set up a special task force to study the agriculture crisis and farm suicides in the region. Singh visited the Vidarbha region and interacted with farmers. The Centre also gave a Rs 3,750 crore package along with a Rs 750 crore interest waiver on loans to six districts in the Vidarbha region.

In 2017, then Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis announced a Rs 35,000 crore loan waiver for farmers in the state. The purpose was to make farmers debt-free and enable them to avail fresh crop loans. Later, the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi government continued the loan waiver.

However, despite the loan waivers and the compensation packages, the agricultural crisis in Vidarbha remains unresolved. The primary reason is that a majority of the marginal and small farmers are entirely dependent on farming, caught in a vicious cycle. When crops fail, they are financially devastated and with no loan-paying ability, they sink into further financial debt. Efforts to engage farmers to take up allied economic activities like dairy farming are yet to be promoted on a massive scale.

Vijay Jawandia, a farmer activist from Vidarbha, says agriculture is not sustainable without government support. “To empower farmers, the government should raise the minimum support price (MSP). The procurement should be maximum to guarantee farmers good returns on crops,” he adds.

In the past, the cotton-growing belt of Vidarbha was known as the ‘white gold’ region as the cash crop, which accounted for 40 per cent of production in the country, brought prosperity to its farmers. Now, however, Vidarbha and its 11 districts – Nagpur, Wardha, Amravati, Gadchiroli, Chandrapur, Gondia, Bhandara, Akola, Buldhana, Washim, Yavatmal – are reeling under an irrigation backlog.

“In the formative years after the creation of Maharashtra in 1960, Vidarbha was neglected. The western Maharashtra politicians who dominated state politics often gave greater importance to the western Maharashtra region. With abundant resources, western Maharashtra was prosperous. When BJP came to power in Maharashtra in 2014, the focus shifted and for the first time, Vidarbha was taken up on priority,” former BJP agriculture minister and Rajya Sabha MP Anil Bonde said.

Under former CM Fadnavis, irrigation projects were taken up on priority. The Centre’s help was sought to complete the 30-year-old Gosikhurd irrigation project, which would irrigate 2.5 lakh hectares of land in the Chandrapur, Bhandara and Nagpur districts. From defence and electronic hubs to textile parks, the then Fadnavis government had given an impetus to the region. But once the MVA came to power in 2019, the BJP government’s policies were stopped.

The BJP returned to power in June 2022 but handling a three-party coalition (BJP, the Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena faction and the Ajit Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party faction) meant the party had a lot on its plate.

Apart from agriculture, Vidarbha also lacks industrial development and the resulting unemployment has compounded the challenge for the government. Though Rs 40,000 crore projects had been approved for Chandrapur and Gadchiroli districts, the industrial development in Vidarbha has failed to make headway. A specially designed and dedicated Butibori Industrial Corridor or MIHAN has not progressed as expected. A textile hub was planned in Amravati district, keeping in sight easy access to raw cotton. However, despite these projects, there is no end to the farmers’ financial crises.

Why is Vidarbha politically important?

The Vidarbha region, with 10 Lok Sabha seats and 62 Assembly seats, is a BJP stronghold. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won five seats, the Shiv Sena (then an alliance partner of the BJP) won three, the Congress won one, and one seat went to an Independent. In the 2019 Assembly polls, the BJP won 29 seats, Congress 15, Shiv Sena four, NCP six and smaller parties/Independents eight. In 2024, the BJP will strive to consolidate its hold further.


Mohd Aman

Editor in Chief Approved by Indian Government

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