LIFE ON THE FAST TRACK
Debt-ridden Vidarbha splurges on bikes
Chittaranjan Tembhekar | TNN
Mumbai: In the 2008-09 fiscal year, Namdeo Thakre, a Vidarbha farmer, gave up his land for the government’s cargo hub project and began working as an attendant in a hardware shop. When his Rs 1 crore compensation came through, he gave up the job to live off the money and began purchasing expensive items like vehicles. ‘‘He spent over Rs 90 lakh over the past year and is now again working as a labourer in the same hardware shop,’’ said social activist Baba Daware.
Thakre’s story is not an isolated one. A thousand kilometres away from the state’s economic capital, residents of several villages in Bhandara district, the heart of the crisis-ridden farm region of Vidarbha, have bought the highest number of two-wheelers (mainly motorbikes) as compared to any district — including urban areas — in the state this year. Bhandara, whose main village is Gosikhurd, is the first rural area to achieve this distinction, according to a review by the state transport department.
The review shockingly reveals that the farmers, living in one of the worst debtridden areas in the country, have bought the vehicles with money they recently got as compensation against the acquisition of their farms and properties for different projects, mainly irrigation ones, like at Gosikhurd dam.
A survey of the last fiscal, according to state transport commissioner Deepak Kapoor, says farmers and labourers in Bhandara bought 88,000 two-wheelers in 2008-09, over 7,000 to 8,000 more than in 2007-2008. Nashik was next, with 78,000 bikes bought in a region saturated with grape cultivators.
State transport sources revealed that around Rs 21 to 23 crore were collected over the past year in vehicle taxes from Bhandara district, with only 1 to 2% of the sales being cars. At this rate, Rs 300 to 340 crore may have been spent on bikes, sources said.
Farmer community leaders say this is a bad trend that has been on for the last couple of years. Owning a bike has become everyone’s ambition in these villages where farmers don’t even have enough food to eat. ‘‘These are ‘killer’ vehicles as the poor farmers use them to travel to nearby talukas to play matka and drink. After losing money, they sell the household utensils of their bayko (wife) but not the bike,’’ said Kishor Tiwari of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti.