United Opposition

Of Challenge and Popular Response

Barun Das Gupta

The Marathwada region of Maharashtra is known for its perennially parched weather. The divisional commissioner has reported as many as 93 farm suicides in this region in the last 45 days since January 01, 2015. Last year, the region had reported 569 farmers' suicides as against 207 in 2013. Crop failure and debts are considered the main reasons for farm suicide. This is common in an area where the single crop pattern is in practice.

The delay in distribution of compensation is the biggest reason for the farmers to take the extreme step. Besides, the vicious cycle of crop loan in combination with erratic monsoon in the region leaves the farmers with no option but to take the path of suicide as an escape route.

In Marathwada, a committee of each taluk comprising the tehsildar, police officer, taluk agriculture officer, sarpanch and a panchayat samiti member probes a suicide case to confirm if the death was due to debt burden. A farmer committing suicide is eligible for compensation only if he possesses land and is debt-ridden. Moreover, he should have taken loan only from either nationalized or co-operative banks and registered money-lenders. There has to be follow up from the banks concerned for the repayment of the loan.

The title holder of the land is the head of the family—normally an elderly male. What will be the fate of the dependents of a young son or daughter or daughter-in-law who cultivated the land and committed suicide due to crop loss? Share cropping farmers don't possess the land. In case such a farmer commits suicide due to crop failure, his family is not eligible for compensation.

As per the above guidelines, the kin of a farmer having no debt but lost his crops due to bad weather and ended his life will not get compensation. Height of cruelty is the case of a farmer who borrowed money from a mahajan/sahukar (unregistered money lender) and committed suicide due to crop loss.

While the state officials and ministers are not rejecting food grains cultivated by a landless farmer or a debt-less farmer or the one who borrowed money from unrecognised money lenders, why should such factors deny the kin of a farmer who ended his life to get compensation?

The administration across India first rejects a farmer's death as a suicide. When established, it will deny that the suicide is due to crop failure or debt burden. It will take out the whole history of the farmer to link his premature death to his drinking and gambling habits. His matrimonial discord because of his wife's extra marital relationship or his family feud with his father and brothers is very often cited as the reason for his suicide.

Families of nearly half of the farmers in Maharashtra who have committed suicide over the last four years are not eligible to get even the paltry Rs one lakh compensation, thanks to government rules. Out of the total 5,698 suicides registered in rural Maharashtra since 2011, especially in Vidarbha and Marathwada regions, spouses of 2,731 victims have been found ineligible to receive government aid-either because the deceased did not have a bank loan against the cultivation planned in that season or did not own a piece of land.

Farm labourers or marginal farmers having no direct access to banks were getting no attention although, they too shared the agony of a failed monsoon. Though the situations vary, the issues remain the same in their lives. The case rejection or ineligibility had gone up since 2008 and there was a need to tackle the issue more scientifically. But every trick within and without the book is tried to deny the compensation to the kin of a farmer who committed suicide.

Moral of the Story: A farmer who intends to commit suicide because of crop failure and debt burden should take all precautionary steps to establish his extreme step—an 'Eligible Suicide' to enable his kin to get compensation after his demise.

The peculiar phenomenon called farm suicide was not noticeable during British rule or the native rule till 1995. The liberalisation unleashed in 1991 laid the foundation for this torrid affair. Public expenditure on agriculture was drastically cut and the farm sector was thrown at the mercy of market forces. India became a signatory in multilateral fora like World Trade Organisation and Intellectual Property Rights regimes. While doing so, the central govt did not ever bother to consult the state govts or the farm associations. Central govt has been signing regularly Free Trade Agreements with various nations keeping the states and farmers in the dark. Net result is the horror of 3 lakh farm suicides from 1995 to till date.

Politicians of all hues are responsible for this sorry state of affairs. During poll season, every political party's heart beats for the farmer. While Arvind Kejriwal brought out figures of farmer suicides in Gujarat, Narendra Modi repeatedly lamented about farmer suicides under UPA regime. However, a look at the government data on farmer suicides since 1995 to 2012 shows that no party has succeeded in putting a stop to this scourge.

In its previous stint in power the NDA fared much worse than the Congress. It saw a 31% increase in farm suicides compared to the previous regime. Under UPA's next five years the figure marginally increased by 2%.

Maharashtra has the worst record for farmer suicides. During 1995-1999, the BJP-Shiv Sena regime saw 10,000 farmers take their lives with an increasing trend year on year. From 1,083 farmer suicides in 1995, the regime witnessed 2,409 farmers taking their lives in 1998. The following Congress regime was worse. Between 1999 and 2003, over 16,000 farmers committed suicide in the state. In the next nine years of Congress-NCP rule in Maharashtra, a whopping 33,702 farmers ended their life.

In Madhya Pradesh, BJP's second showcase state after Gujarat, the situation has been no better. During the Congress regime of 1998-2003 under Digvijay Singh, over 13,000 farmers committed suicide. Since then, over 22,000 farmers have committed suicide in MP under the BJP regime.

In Andhra Pradesh, another farmer suicide bowl of India, both TDP and Congress, which have ruled the stale during the period, are in the same boat. During TDP's regime of 1995-2003, over 16,000 farmers committed suicide. In the following 10-year regime of the Congress's Rajasekhara Reddy and others this figure increased to over 21,000.

In Karnataka, between 1995 and 1999 under Janata Dal government headed by HD Deve Gowda, over 10,000 farmers committed suicide. This increased to 12,000 in the next regime under Congress's SM Krishna. Between 2004 and 2012, under two years of Congress and rest of BJP rule, over 18,000 farmers ended their lives.

Modi regime's refusal to implement its promise on Minimum Support Price as per Swaminathan Committee's recommendation and its direction to the states, to delay the procurement due to paucity of space in godowns forced the farmers in all states to sell their produce to private traders at a loss varying from Rs 500 to 600 per quintal. Adding insult to the injury is the ordinance on land acquisition forcing the farmers to the Eminent Domain era of 1894.

During all these unbearable rural stress and misery, main stream media in general and electronic media in particular and the informed Indians are discussing the death of Sunanda Pushkar and the historic victories of India over Pakistan and South Africa endlessly. Not a single captain of India Inc nor an economic expert even cursorily touched these state-sponsored farm deaths.

Vol. 47, No. 39, Apr 5 - 11, 2015