By Krishnadas Rajagopal
New Delhi : A study conducted across 13 States by the Union Agriculture Ministry throws up the all-too-familiar reasons that drive farmers to suicide.
The Ministry’s agricultural economic research unit, Agricultural and Rural Transformation Centre (ADRTC) of the Institute for Social and Economic Change (ISEC), Bengaluru, investigated farmers’ suicides in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
The story behind each death points to frequent crop failure, vagaries of the monsoon, absence of assured water resources, attacks of pests and diseases, debts, farming and social causes.
Nothing has changed on the ground for the farmer in the past two years, as is clear from the Union Home Ministry’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which disseminates and compiles information on “suicides of self-employed in farming/agriculture” in its publication Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India.
NCRB reports up to 2015 reveal identical causes of suicides among farmers — bankruptcy, farming-related issues, family problems, illness, drug abuse or alcoholism.
Affidavit in court
In an affidavit filed by the Agriculture Ministry in the Supreme Court last week, the Centre agrees with the court that the deaths of farmers are an “unfortunate issue”, but it can only formulate a line of action to resolve the issue, the actual implementation at the ground level is the responsibility of the individual States.
The court is scheduled to hold a hearing on May 1 on this affidavit filed on the basis of a petition filed by the organisation, Citizens Resource and Action Initiative (CRANTI), against Gujarat. The court expanded the ambit of the petition to farmers’ suicides across the country and had asked the Centre on March 27 to provide an action plan to end the human tragedy.
The affidavit suggests crop insurance, crop and enterprise diversification, government intervention through minimum support price (MSP) covering cost of production plus a reasonable profit margin, establishing farmers’ welfare cells as support groups and regulating informal credit market as remedies.
But Kavitha Kurungati of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture who is involved in the case, says there is a disconnect between the Centre and States, which leaves the farmer empty-handed. “It is clear that the Centre controls most important policies pertaining to farm livelihoods whether it is MSP, credit, crop insurance, disaster compensation, trade policies and so on. Often, the States are not consulted on these matters. The MSP is not realised by most farmers. Credit is being cornered by non-farmers. Many of these policies are actually going against farmers’ interests. Unless these are addressed, farm suicides can’t be prevented.” She suggests a “permanent farm income commission”.
The government affidavit, however, points to relief measures such as the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, which provides farmers’ full insurance and had 390.02 lakh farmers covered and 386.75 lakh hectares insured with a sum of ₹1,41,883.30 crore during Kharif 2016. The Agriculture Ministry said 172.94 lakh farmers had been covered with a total sum of ₹69,851.37 lakh crore during Rabi 2016-17.
It said the government had increased the target of agricultural credit from ₹9 lakh crore to ₹10 lakh crore in Budget 2017-18.
Rescheduling of loans
Besides, the Reserve Bank of India has allowed State and district level banks to take a lenient view on rescheduling of loans if crop loss is 33% or more.
The government has highlighted the Kisan Credit Card scheme and the e-National Agricultural Market Scheme launched on April 14, 2016 to “create a single unified market for the State and ultimately for the nation for agricultural commodities.”
Source: The Hindu