Kishore Radhakrishnan Dhage recalled that one day recently as he was leaving home, his wife called him and urged him to cycle to their small soybean field 1.5 km away. “I can no longer afford to buy petrol. It costs more than what we spend on food in three days,” she recalls.
Like Dhage, other farmers in Parbhani district, Maharashtra, about 500 km from Mumbai, have no choice but to risk their health and walk for miles. Parbhani, which is in the drought-prone Marathwada region, is one of the poorest districts in the state with a net income per capita of Rs 1,20,065 compared to Rs 2,02,130 for the state.
It even ranks among the districts with the lowest credits and bank deposits. To make matters worse, residents of Parbhani are also facing the brunt of recent fuel price hikes. On April 7, the price of petrol and diesel stood at Rs 123.51 and Rs 106.08 per liter respectively, the highest in India.
Petrol price on Thursday was Rs 123.53 per litre, the highest after Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh (Rs 123.63 per litre), while diesel price was Rs 106.10 per litre, behind Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha. In comparison, the price of petrol was Rs 120.51 per liter in Mumbai and diesel cost Rs 104.77 per litre.
Fuel prices are so high in the neighborhood due to its location. A Parbhani tanker travels nearly 730 km round trip to the nearest fuel depot at Panewadi near Manmad in Nashik district.
District Collector Aanchal Goyal said The Indian Express“The supply point of Parbhani is at Manmad. The price of fuel for the citizens is decided considering the cost of transportation. Due to the geographical location of the district, the cost of transportation is higher here.
High fuel prices have also had a knock-on effect on fertilizer and seed costs, and labor hiring rates have increased. Taking advantage of the unprecedented situation, local dealers have also increased the rental price of agricultural equipment. Farmers said their production has now increased by 30-40%.
Many distressed farmers forced to use oxen for cultivation take out loans to buy cattle. The growers are
now also dependent on diesel engines due to frequent power cuts.
“The district has an agriculture-based livelihood (according to the 2011 census, 68.97% of the population lives in villages) and is highly dependent on gasoline-powered machinery for farming. Soaring fuel prices are further adding to their mental and economic distress,” said Professor Pravin P Ghunnar of the University of Mumbai’s Department of Social Work.
Even though production costs are increasing, the selling price of products has not increased. “I always sell a piece of sweet lemon for 20 paise. In town, it sells for Rs 3-4. But there is no mechanism to help farmers raise their prices. Thus, our savings on agricultural products have decreased by 30-40% due to the increase in fuel prices,” said fruit farmer Kantarao Deshmukh from Zari village.
Farmers’ unions have accused the government of turning a blind eye to the plight of farmers. “Farmers kill themselves when they fail to get out of economic distress after repeated attempts. If the government cannot control fuel prices, it should offer subsidies or give up loans,” said Avinash Kakade, national chairman of the Kisan Brigade.
The Marathwada region, where Parbhani is located, has a high rate of farmer suicides. In response to an initial appeal filed by The Indian Express under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, the Deputy Commissioner (Revenue) of Aurangabad Division revealed last December that 334 cases of suicides farmers had been registered in Parbhani between 2018 and October 2021.
In Marathwada, 3,270 farmers committed suicide during the same period.