The uplifting first impression left by the lush green neem tree outside and an imposing poster of Amitabh Bachchan’s Suhaag inside the one-room house of Punjaram and Kalavati Rakshe, a childless couple in their 50s, is shattered in no time as you walk into their kitchen and see the ‘collected’ food there. Assorted pieces of bhakri (bread) and some curry is all they have for meals.
With no education or age on their side, the couple gets only occasional menial jobs in Jambsamarth village, Ghansawangi taluka, about 70 km from Jalna. Not only do they not know much about the food security legislation, they are also highly suspicious of it, given their past experience with “schemes”.
“We don’t cook because people give us food in exchange for work. I don’t even have a ration card,” says Punjaram. They had registered for BPL status once, but have no document to prove it. “If we get cheap food, it will help us. I barely manage to work few hours every day. We did not get pension despite submitting papers two years ago. What is the guarantee that the new scheme will work?” asks Kalavati. Rumours about being eliminated from the beneficiary list if you possess a mobile phone spread faster than actual information about the flagship bill.
Villagers from nearby Bazarwahegaon in Badnapur taluka spend five to six months a year in the sugar belt as cane-cutting workers. “We are not even given what we are entitled to at the ration shops. Foodgrain remains for three or four days at the shop and if we don’t have money during that time, it is all gone,” says Yamuna Arsud, who keeps her BPL certificate, orange ration card and even Aadhar cards very carefully. She says the bill is a good idea but asks how the grain will reach them if they are out for so many months.
Also worried are land-owning farmers, who may be doing a tad better than the abject poor. “As it is we have suffered drought for the past three years. Will the farmer now have to give his produce at lower rates and then take the same grain as beneficiary?” asks Rajkumar Tangde, a farmer. The helplessness has divided farmers across the drought-prone region into two broad groups. Ones who are willing to give up their land for so-called development projects—SEZs for a good price. And the others who continue to believe in farming as a calling for life.
In the context of the land acquisition bill, one thing is clear: land-for-land is a weakening demand. At Bidkin, which falls under the Delhi-Mumbai industrial corridor, farmers are already into last-stage negotiations with the government. There’s much talk about fierce conditions. And about the bounty received in the adjoining Karmad area—apparently 700 new bikes were bought in the village soon after they received the compensation.
By Prachi Pinglay-Plumber in Aurangabad and Jalna
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