No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another. Those are the words of Charles Dickens. Lightening the burden of another is also a guiding principle of humanity but are we living in a humane world? I don’t think so. We are living in times when humanity is facing but consciously ignoring a stream of burdens. In recent times, it has become all the more evident, be it terrorism, crimes, poverty, illiteracy, hunger, discrimination and other such burdens thriving around, amongst and within us. We live in a time when solutions to emergent severe problems are delayed over long term technological advancements. We think we are a part of modernization but in reality we are taking this walk with selective insensitivity towards the plight of marginalized in our heads, fooling our hearts. We need to step back, take a break and think, for the sake of humanity, together, we should all cross this stream of burdens where it is shallowest. To seek for approaches that first solves our basic problems and progressively move on to complex issues but that’s not the case with Nagpur metro project.
While travelling from Gujarat to Maharashtra by train in a sleeper class, in the month of June, I happen to see a mega construction of Nagpur metro project going on in midst of arid lands. I imagined how helpless farmers might feel while looking at these mega structures. I knew, deep within that something is wrong here. This metro project shouldn’t be here, at this moment. I shared the pain of those helpless farmers only that mine was a lot lesser intense but we both might be thinking about the same questions, ‘What’s happening to Nagpur? Is this metro project really needed at this particular time when a significant number of farmers are committing suicide? Shouldn’t the primary focus be solving basic problems.
Coming to the details of the project. The cost of Nagpur metro project is estimated at Rs. 86.80 billion (Zee News, Aug 20, 2014). There are going to be 2 lines, 36 metro stations with tracks covering up to 38.2 Kms in Nagpur.
This project is built for routine usage of estimated 12% of Nagpur’s citizens by the year 2021. The question is, ‘Is it really worth ignoring the problems of farmers for the convenience of 12%?’ Interestingly, of the remaining metro non-users constitution of 88%, a large chuck belongs to rural areas (35%) (Census, 2011), who are not going to avail any benefits of metro in their routine lives. To be specific, because of setting up metro rail in Nagpur, farmers are not going to get any support in preparation of soil, tiling, acquiring manures, storage of yield and stock transportation. This mega project is not going to be useful for Nagpur farmers and would not make any sort of difference to help them in living a better and dignified farmer’s life.
Looking at the farmer’s suicide, 3, 052 farmers committed suicide in the year 2016 and in 2017, as on 31st March 2017 in three months 639 farmers has already committed suicide. The same problem has been reiterated in NCRB data where the number of suicide rates by farmers are stated to be rising. In a recent study by Kishore (2017) stated that farmer suicide in India is a reality with high concentration of suicide rates in few states (Kerala, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana and Maharashtra) and major causes behind farmer’s suicide was stated to be majorly related to ‘economic distress’. This is disturbing to imagine, on one side there is this mega structure which is on its prosperous way to completion and on the other side is an on looking farmer, standing there, under the sun, basically worried about dealing with poverty in life, evading bankruptcy or finding ways to deal with crop failures. Two stark differences and we are stranded in the middle of nowhere, staring helplessly at the greatest drama of inequality and insensitivity towards farmer’s plight in the name of development.
Now consider diverting of Rs. 82.20 Billion in above mentioned solutions, wouldn’t they make a difference in lives of many. Imagine the relief provided to so many farmers by diverting the huge amount of water which is otherwise spent in building metro project. Suppose if the government chooses to ignore all the above solutions at the moment and present to 12% us with brand new metro rail, just imagine, would we be happy to travel in a metro knowing that it was actually built on expense of hundreds and thousands of lives of farmers who otherwise would have been saved? Are we going to live at peace with that? I am not all against Nagpur metro, this is a great and visionary project but I think it could wait, first we need to solve basic problems. It would be right only when the cost spent on these mega projects be utilized instead on policies for saving lives of farmers, allowing time to stabilize the positive impact made by these policies and then we could aspire for such mega projects.
Right now, farmers who are not in a position to debate in parliament are expressing their frustration through riots. Seeing farmers causing damage to public property and clashing with police is a sad picture. Things have already gotten out of hands of administration and daily many lives of innocents are being lost in farmer agitations. We need to understand that farmers are indeed forced to speak in the language of the system, the language of ‘causing hurt’ – it’s just that, unlike the cunning policy makers, the candid farmer is causing hurt out in open. If someone needs to take initiative then it has to be politicians and policy makers to change the scenario. To give back the kind of respect and dignity that a farmer actually deserves.
Now, it is for the system to decide- what is in the best interest for people and farmers? It’s a simple matter of preferences, between saving lives or building mega structures. A matter of preference between humanity and ‘convenience of select few’. Government need to understand that using such mega structures as a catch point for next election’s propaganda is not a right thing to do. Saving lives of poor may not win votes from major vote banks belonging to urban areas but it sure would mean a lot for the families whose sole bread winner is a farmer- who may be busy right now, taking care of his/her soil, working tirelessly under the sun. For the sake of humanity, let us not forget, it’s because of a farmer that we have food on our plate.
Amit is a researcher presently working in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.