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SAGA CORNER

Farmers Suicides and yearly Budget announcements in India

How ironical it is to be caught up in the vicious circle of growing, cultivating and harvesting of crops and to find the only escape from this in suicide. Giving life to a seed in fields at times culminates with taking your own life. The India shining story with much urbanization and smart cities often leaves out the story of dirty muddy fragmented fields far behind. To bring out this story we shall present the case of innumerable farmers of India who live (or choose not to) in ever mounting debts. The story of distressed farmers who find answers to their debt-related problems in suicide.

In two decades up to year 2014 there were over 3 lakh farmer suicides in India. In 2014, the country recorded 12,360 farmer suicides. In 2015, that number went up to 12,602. To break it down for a better understanding it means on an average over 1000 farmer suicides per month. That is, around 35 farmers committing suicide every day. At least one farmer ending his life every hour in this country. Appalled? Wait, that’s just the official data we are talking about. The real numbers are higher. There are many more farmer suicides unreported or misreported in the earnest effort from the government to keep the numbers low. To hush up the issue and to make believe that it isn’t all that bad at the ground-level.

However, it is that bad. Or in fact worse. Denial of the magnitude of the problem is dismissal. Persistent farmer suicides has become a growing problem. A problem that is not getting its due attention in the past several budgets. The numbers are rising but so is the awareness now. The government’s dismissal is out in the open and thus in the past several years there have been many columns, journals, articles and books written about farmer suicides. With the incoming Budget of 2017-18 the same is expected now.Though, clearly that’s not quite enough. Still, there seems no respite. And no real relief for farmers through the way of budgetary allocations. The crisis is deepening and the suicide numbers alarming. Through this story we aim to bring out the reasons for farmer suicides, the steps taken by the government so far and the days ahead for farmers in India.

Reasons for Suicides by Farmers

The most well-known and often spoken about reason for farmer suicides is crop failure due to lack of monsoon rains. For instance, years 2014 and 2015 were drought years. According to a study titled ‘Relative contribution of monsoon precipitation and pumping to changes in groundwater storage India’, which was published in the journal Nature Geoscience last month groundwater withdrawals in the country have increased over tenfold in six decades. “The monsoons in North India, from June to September, have declined in intensity and duration since 1950, leading to more frequent and intense droughts.” The severe drought experienced by farmers result in farming woes and much lesser crop produce. While, this is definitely an important reason it is not the only significant one. There have been years with good monsoon rains and excellent crop produce witnessing suicides.

Farmers have been killing themselves in years of excellent crop produce just as in years of crop failure. Clearly, there is more to it than just monsoon.

The rising input costs, ever since the green revolution happened, have adversely affected the cultivators. A 100 to 500 per cent increase in prices of agricultural inputs like high-yield variety seeds, fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides and labor costs have made it almost impossible for farmers to make ends meet. The water-use patterns, hyper-commercialization, and severe price shocks and price volatility break the farmers.

Growing crops year after year on the same piece of land without the use of fertilizers and pesticides has become difficult. The yield per hectare has gone down. And the added costs have been forcing farmers to take credit. With limited institutional avenues to take credit from, farmers end up in the clutches of moneylenders and sahukars who lend at exorbitant rates of interest. In some cases the interest rates are as high as 45%.

The steps taken

To bring relief to farmers there is not much the government has done in terms of execution. The schemes like Pradhan Mantri FasalBimaYojana, Pradhan Mantri Krishi SinchayeeYojana, organic farming, self-sufficiency in pulses and oilseeds, national agriculture market (eNAM), mobile app, and disaster relief are all there aiming to double the income of farmers in the next five years. But they work best on paper alone. When put to practice each one of them fail to bring relief to the farmer. The middlemen and commission agents end up profiting from the government sanctioned credit schemes and compensations instead.

However, the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief (ADWDR) scheme of 2008-09 did its bit to acknowledge the crisis. It provided for full waiver on all ‘eligible loans’ overdue on December 31, 2007, for marginal (holding up to one hectare) and small (holding between one to two hectares) farmers, and a one-time settlement scheme for farmers holding more than two hectares of land under which a rebate of 25% was given against the payment of the balance 75% of the loan before June 30, 2009. This deadline was extended by a year because of the failed monsoon season in 2009-10. A total of Rs 52,500crores were released for the scheme, with about 192.59 lakh farmers reported to have benefitted from it.

These and some other measures like soil health cards, direct benefit transfer scheme, etc. have tried to address the farmer’s issues. But, the fact remains that much more needs to be done.

In the Time to Come

To put the best foot forward the government needs to start acknowledging the intensity of agrarian crisis. The fact that so many farmers take the extreme step cannot be concealed. Some research and analysis of past several years reveal a certain trend. It brings out that farmers growing cash crops are the most affected. That is the growers of cotton, sugar cane, groundnut, vanilla, coffee, pepper and others.  Fewer suicides occur amongst growers of paddy or wheat. Similarly, farmers coming from seven states namely Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu are more prone to take the extreme step in comparison to farmers hailing from other states.

Also, marginal and small farmers comprise of over 72% of the total farm suicides. And then, there is another category of ‘agricultural laborers’ with no landholding that is committing suicide. In states like Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, West Bengal which in the past reported ‘zero’ farm suicides have actually left out the agricultural labourers and women farmers who work in the fields. This brings us to the point wherein we should be able to define a farmer. Also, better and timely compensation from the government if provided will go a long way in helping the farmer. A bigger and wider coverage for provisioning of loans through institutional mechanisms like NABARD will also bring relief. However, focus shouldn’t be on credit and loan rather steps should be taken to increase the income, productivity and prosperity of farmers. The putting in check of the middlemen and private moneylenders should be emphasized upon and the policies should be executed in letter and spirit. The push for reforms in agriculture marketing and more funds for irrigation and insurance schemes announced in this year’s budget will only help if it all reaches down to the lowest level. If not, the irony of farmers committing suicides will continue to haunt this nation.”

By TIS Staffer
the authorBy TIS Staffer

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