The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Allies clash on cotton deaths

New Delhi, Nov. 27: The list of issues on which the Shiv Sena and the NDA are at odds with each other is lengthening by the day.

Members of the Sena, a partner in the A.B. Vajpayee-led government, today staged a walkout in the Rajya Sabha, protesting the Centre’s denial of suicide deaths among cotton farmers in Maharashtra. Denying that the suicides were caused by crop failure, agriculture minister Ajit Singh told that the suicides could have been due to “psychic” reasons or because of “some” illness.

The minister refused to admit that the introduction of BT cotton had added to the farmers’ woes.

Singh said the Indian Council of Agricultural Research was working towards producing an indigenous, genetically modified cotton. “This could be commercially produced within two to three years,” he added. Putting up a staunch defence of BT cotton, the agriculture minister said: “With the use of BT cotton, production has increased by 25 per cent and about 40 per cent less of pesticides needs to be used.”

Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam raised the issue of suicide deaths, underscoring the recent nine suicides by cotton farmers in Maharashtra. “We demand that the Centre send a team to Maharashtra to probe the issue,” he said.

Nirupam rapped the government, saying: “I thought the Maharashtra government was heartless but now I find the Centre is equally so.” He added that there were 47 suicides among cotton farmers this year. “Since Diwali, nine more have committed suicide.”

MPs from the Congress and its offshoot, the Nationalist Congress Party, defended the Vilasrao Deshmukh dispensation, saying it was not the state government’s policies that were triggering these deaths.

“Those committing suicide are not cotton farmers. The state government has carried out a full-fledged inquiry into the deaths,” said Congress MP Prithviraj Chauhan.

This is not the first time that farmers are committing suicides. In Andhra Pradesh, there had been a string of suicides among farmers unable to repay their debts after taking loan to buy pesticides.

Rajya Sabha MPs pointed to the Centre’s policy of importing cotton — a fact the agriculture minister took note of. “The government will look into the matter and see if there is a case for rationalising import duty on raw cotton,” Singh said.

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