Political blame game ensues over farmer’s death in Maharashtra

Mumbai: The death of an 84-year-old farmer protesting against inadequate compensation for a plot of land acquired by the government today triggered a political slugfest between the ruling BJP and the Opposition.

Farmer Dharma Patil consumed a poisonous chemical at Mantralaya, the state Secretariat, here on January 22 and died at a government hospital late last night. The NCP accused Maharashtra tourism minister Jaykumar Rawal of using his “political influence” to cancel a meeting last week between minister Chandrashekhar Bawankule and Patil over the farmer’s demand for greater compensation.

The cancellation of the meeting pushed Patil into taking his life, NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik claimed.

“Rawal and his family members buy land in advance from farmers at lower rates in Dhule district ahead of their acquisition by the state government for higher compensation,” he alleged.

Rawal, who represents the Sindkheda constituency in Dhule district, where Patil lived, denied the charges.

The tourism minister told PTI that the previous Congress-NCP government was responsible for the “injustice” meted out to the farmer.

“I was an MLA from Dhule (in 2012) and when the land acquisition procedure (for a proposed solar plant) commenced, I demanded a base price of Rs 10 lakh per hectare. Though the land was rain-fed, the state government then offered Rs 2 lakh as the acquisition cost, which was very low,” Rawal said.

A government official said the first proposal for acquiring Patil’s land was made on May 8, 2009, when the Congress-led UPA government was in power in Maharashtra. In April 2014, before the BJP-led government took charge in the state, the process of hearing of objections was concluded and the compensation was accepted by Dharma Patil, the official said.

Former state chief minister Prithviraj Chavan demanded a judicial probe into the issue.
“As per my information, some land agents are involved in such land acquisition deals and local revenue officials are also a part of the nexus. The farmers who agreed with such agents received higher compensation,” the Congress leader said.
Leader of the Opposition in the state Legislative Council, Dhananjay Munde, blamed the state government. “Only this government is to be blamed for the farmer’s death,” he said.

Munde’s counterpart in the Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said the farmer died due to “government apathy and anti-farmer policies”.

A Maharashtra minister had purchased land in the same area after the process of acquisition began (so as to pocket the compensation), he said.

“The government is solely responsible for this death. It should be booked under section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code,” Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan said. The BJP’s bickering ally Shiv Sena issued contradictory statements on the issue.

While Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut said the government should be booked for “culpable homicide”, party spokesperson Neelam Gorhe blamed the previous regime. “Ninety per cent of the blame falls on the previous Congress-NCP government and ten per cent on the current government,” Gorhe said.

Bawankule, who handles the energy portfolio, said the government would reassess the land valuation. In a letter to Narendra Patil, the farmer’s son, Bawankule said the farmer had complained about low compensation for the land as well as for the fruit-bearing trees on it. The value of both would be reassessed and the procedure completed in 30 days, he said. Narendra Patil told reporters outside the JJ Hospital that his father’s body would be taken to Sindhkheda tehsil in Dhule district for the last rites.

The government had last week offered an assistance of Rs 15 lakh to the farmer’s family after he consumed poison, but his son had refused to accept it.

“We were denied proper compensation by the state authorities for the land acquisition. Except us, everybody in our neighbourhood whose land was acquired was given a higher compensation. Why was there such a disparity,” he had asked. Meanwhile, the farmer’s family agreed to accept his body after the BJP-led state government promised a reassessment of the compensation amount.

The family had earlier said it would not accept the body till their demands were accepted.