Monday, 18 May 2015 00:00

Farmer suicides in India

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They say that public has a short memory. It is true.We remember farmer suicides when a farmer commits one, only to forget all about it in a couple of days. No demand for action, no guilty punished. This issue deserves our serious attention.

Let us look at few numbers:

Farmer suicides are a matter of grave concern. In 2011, a total of 135,585 people committed suicide, of which 14,207 were farmers. In 2012, the National Crime Records Bureau of India reported 13,754 farmer suicides, which is the official count. In 2012, the state of Maharashtra, with 3,786 farmers' suicides, accounted for about a quarter of the all India's farmer suicides total.

 The highest number of farmer suicides was recorded in 2004 when 18,241 farmers committed suicide. As of 2013, a total of 296,438 farmers have killed themselves in India since 1995. There are a number of reasons for farmer suicides, such as monsoon failure, high debt burdens, genetically modified crops, government policies, personal issues and family problems. There are some other reasons as well like habits of drinking and gambling, chronic illness, property disputes, debt burden, etc.

Droughts:

As much as 80% of India's farmland relies on monsoon season for irrigation. So, inadequate rainfall can cause droughts, making crop failure more common. In regions that have experienced droughts, crop yields have declined, and food for cattle has become scarcer. Agricultural regions that have been affected by droughts have subsequently seen farmers’ suicide rates to increase.

GM crops:

There is a link between the GM crops and farmer suicides. The Bt cotton seeds cost nearly twice as much as ordinary ones. The higher costs force farmers to take larger loans, often from private moneylenders on exorbitant interest rates (60% a year). The moneylenders collect their dues at harvest time, by compelling farmers to sell their cotton to them at a price lower than it fetches in the market. Due to their losses, farmers are compelled to commit suicides. The southern Indian states have ten times higher rates of suicides than some northern states. According to a report by Daily Mail, every 30 minutes an Indian farmer commits suicide as a result of Monsanto’s GMO crops. Globalization and monopoly have forced farmers to buy GMO seeds and since GMO crops have become pest resistant, the farmers have no choice but to purchase Monsanto’s popular herbecide. This is a disturbing fact that often farmers commit suicide by drinking the insecticide shipped to them by companies like Monsanto.

Relief packages:

In response to farmer suicides, the government appointed a number of inquiries. Families of dead farmers were given grants. In 2006, the government of India announced ex-gratia cash assistance from Prime Ministers National Relief Fund to the farmers. A special rehabilitation package was launched to mitigate the distress of the farmers. Following steps can be taken to help farmers:

  • Debt relief
  • Improved supply of institutional credit
  • Improved irrigation facilities
  • To employ experts and social service personnel to provide farming support services
  • Introduction of subsidiary income opportunities through horticulture, livestock, dairying and fisheries.

In 2008, the state government of Maharashtra, one of the most farmer suicide affected states, passed the Money Lending (Regulation) Act, 2008 to regulate all private money lending to farmers. The bill set maximum legally allowed interest rates on loans to farmers. The State Government of Maharashtra made it illegal, in 2010, for non-licensed moneylenders from seeking loan repayment. 

Failure of government efforts:

A look at government data on farmer suicides since 1995 to 2012 shows that no political party has succeeded in stopping farmers’ suicides. Among states Maharashtra has the worst record for farmer suicides. During 1995-1999, there were 10,000 farmers who took their lives. These figures show that the government has failed in implementing its policies to save lives of farmers. States like Punjab and Haryana are considered advanced in agriculture, but farmers of these states also have been involved in committing suicides.

Condition this year:

This year farmers have suffered from unseasonal excessive rains and hail storms. This led to destruction of crops all over India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a higher relief package for farmers. At the same time he has directed banks to restructure agricultural loans and also asked insurance companies to proactively settle the claims. The destruction of crops this year has already led to many suicides. In such situations, some political parties are trying to take advantage.

Political advantage by AAP:

Arvind Kejrival held a rally in Delhi for so called support of the farmers. This was a rally to take political advantage not to help farmers in any way. Such rallies inflame passions in general public. The brazen result of this rally was shown on all TV channels – Suicide of a farmer from Rajasthan. Nearly 3 lakh Indian farmers have committed suicide in the last two decades. Given that suicide is associated with social stigma for the family and is in fact a crime according to Indian law, so the statistics on suicides are subject to an under-reporting bias. In the above mentioned incident Rajasthan farmer (allegedly a rich businessman) Gajendra Singh hanged himself in front of thousands at an Aam Aadmi Party rally in Delhi. His wheat and mustard crops had been damaged by recent unseasonal rains. Senior police officers have told that a case may be registered against the organizers of the rally, who will also be questioned.

According to the FIR, AAP workers and supporters abetted the suicide of Singh. Investigators said their probe reveals that AAP workers stopped police from sending the victim to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital while insisting that he was a party member and should not be taken in police van which resulted in considerable delay leading to his death. It is so shameful that the AAP leaders did not call off the rally and even after death of a farmer the rally continued. Police blames the AAP leaders and the AAP blames the police for inaction. But the fact is that a farmer lost his life in this drama of rally. There was enthusiastic news coverage of this death until the earthquake in Nepal deflected media attention.

“India loves a dead farmer more than a living one”:

In regard to deaths of the farmers a foreign newspaper rightly said “India loves a dead farmer more than a living one.” A typical Indian farmer, when alive and toiling, is among the least productive workers in the world. Trillions of rupees are spent in subsidies but even then farmers are in distress. No matter how much money the state throws at farmers, most of them have small holdings of land or are landless labourers. It shows that farming in India has bleak prospects.

There is need of agricultural reforms and counselling of farmers. Cheap loans and better irrigation facilities can help farmers. The land bill to be passed by the government can bring attractive prices to the farming land. The people with small land holdings can sell the land and try their hand in other sectors. All these measures are to be taken only then the farmers of India can be saved.

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