Now, a farmers’ suicide SENSEX
Nearly 2 lakh farmers committed suicide in India since 1997. The share of big five states accounted for 1,22,823 suicides in this 12 year period
Sadiq Naqvi Delhi
The data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau points out that 16,196 farmers in India ended their life in 2008. K Nagaraj, an economist, in his report Farmers' suicides in India: Magnitude, Trends and Spatial Patterns, says, "The title to land was taken as the criterion for identifying the farmer and this often left out a genuine farmer from the count. For example, a tenant farmer who leased in land and hence did not have a title to the land, could be denied the status of a farmer; so also a farmer if the title was in his father's name."
Hence, the numbers may be a deception.
Nearly 2 lakh farmers committed suicide in India since 1997. The share of big five states - Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh - accounted for nearly 1,22,823 suicides in the 12 year period since 1997. On an average, a farmer dies every 30 minutes. Currently, the figure might go up as experts believe that conditions are averse for agriculture. A failed monsoon, extreme drought and a record rise in the prices of basic goods made life an unbearable burden for the poor, especially in rural areas, with abysmally low purchasing power, and practically no social safety net.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced Rs 3,750 crore package for the six districts of Vidarbha where suicides were most rampant. Around Rs 20,000 crore were given as grant for the farmers of Maharashtra in the period, 2006-08. This includes the much touted loan waivers by the central government. Even during this period 12,493 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra alone. The policy makers saw it only in black and white and did not venture to find out the root cause. Besides, did the entire money reach the farmers?
Although, the interest on the pending loans was waived by the government, it failed to curb the interference and influence of local moneylenders in the whole business of agriculture in the country. These parasitic moneylenders with political clout, with ready capital at high interest rates, made it impossible for the farmers to pay them back.
The farmers get drawn into a vicious, never-ending and fatal cycle of indebtedness which passes on from one generation to other, often promoting bonded labour because the land is confiscated on account of non payment of loans. When the banks turn their backs to the cash-strapped farmers, there is no other option left but to go to these moneylenders.
Moreover, promised a high yield by the seed companies, the farmers shifted to Bt cotton only to find themselves cheated. There were reports of the cattle dying after feeding on these plants. The result was more debt and even more agony.
According to the Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers Indebtedness of Farmer Households National Sample Survey (NSS) 59th Round (January-December 2003), an estimated 60.4 per cent of rural households were farmer households and of them 48.6 per cent were reported to be indebted. The incidence of indebtedness was highest in Andhra Pradesh (82.0 per cent), to be followed by Tamil Nadu (74.5 per cent), Punjab (65.4 per cent), Kerala (64.4 per cent), Karnataka (61.6 per cent) and Maharashtra (54.8 per cent).
Nearly, 80 per cent of farmland have holdings less than 5 acres. Landless labourers constitute the majority with no land or savings: they are not even counted as farmers, and hence, not listed in farmer suicide cases. Rising input costs, stagnant productivity and no major increase in the sale price of the produce have led to overall distress.
Nagaraj points out that banking sector reforms in favour of privatisation meant that the organised credit to agriculture practically dried up. With the withdrawal of agricultural subsidies, costs of production, particularly of cash crops like cotton, shot up. The fragile agrarian economy dependent on State support stands devastated. And so are the dreams of a food secure India.
The mass genocide of farmers continues even while the elected government of India is busy doling out huge sums to corporate enterprises to bail them out of recession. And helping cold blooded market forces, hoarders and traders to push up prices of essential commodities, even while the farmers are left high and dry.