Mumbai: In a controversial remark, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Gopal Shetty on Wednesday said not all farmers' suicides happen due to unemployment and starvation.
Shetty's remark has drawn criticism from the Opposition, with Congress saying it reflected the ruling party's "insensitivity" towards farmers.
In a bid to water down the controversy, Shetty said his statement was "completely distorted" and taken out of context by the media.
"Not all farmers' suicides happen due to unemployment and starvation. A fashion is going on. A trend is on," Shetty, the MP from north Mumbai, said on the sidelines of an event held in Borivili here yesterday.
The remarks come at a time when Maharashtra is reeling under an agrarian crisis with 124 farmers committing suicide in the state since January this year.
"If Maharashtra government is giving Rs five lakh as compensation, then some other government in neighbouring state is giving Rs seven lakh," the MP said.
"There's a competition in these people in giving money (compensation) to farmers," he said.
Condemning the comments, Congress said the remarks by Shetty reflected the BJP's "insensitivity" towards farmers' plight.
"At a time when Maharashtra is going through its worst-ever agrarian crisis, Shetty's remarks show how insensitive he and his party are towards thousands of farmers who have committed suicide due to debt and crop failure," Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam said.
However, Shetty asserted his statement was "distorted"
"My statement was completely distorted and I never intended to say that farmers are committing suicide to get money from the government," he told PTI.
"I was asked by a reporter that wasn't it a failure of BJP government in the state that 124 farmers committed suicide? To this, I replied that Fadnavis government is doing a tremendous job through schemes like 'Jal Shivar Yojana' and it will take time for their benefit to reach farmers. Suicides will not stop overnight because the last government did nothing to stop such suicidal trend in last 15 years," he said.
"I also said that nowadays there has been a fashion to disperse money by all state governments in the country. One state government gives Rs 5 lakhs, another government gives Rs 8 lakhs, while another government is giving Rs 9 lakhs to the deceased's family," he said.
"So with an intention to say that there has been a competition and race among state governments to award monetary help to the farmers and this race has become fashion nowadays, my statement was linked to that of farmers committing suicide due to fashion, which I can never say," he clarified. "I also said that disbursement of money to the families of deceased farmers is not going to stop this, but we need to have a sustainable and long-term planning that could give them a permanent source of income," Shetty said.
The state government two days back informed the Bombay High Court that 124 farmers had committed suicide in the state since January this year.
The High Court had asked the Centre what kind of assistance it provided to the state to deal with the grim agrarian crisis.
Advocate General Srihari Aney had told the court that factors like crop failure resulting from scanty rains, meagre water supply for drinking and growing crops, insufficient capacity to repay loans and pressure from banks and money lenders driven the farmers to commit suicide.
(With Agency inputs)