An Indian farmer is born in debt, lives in debt and dies in debt.
There is excitement all around. Market continued to rally for the second straight day on the expectation of a new and stable government. As per reports, the NSE 50-share Nifty crossed the 7,000 level for the first time in the history to touch 7,020 points. The BSE Sensex rallied 550 points on May 12 to close at 23,551 points. Some market analysts are pointing to the Sensex breaching the 25,000 mark in a day or so.
While the huge road show at the Dalal Street is what dons the national headlines, the loud cries of wailing farm widows have been lost in the noise and cacophony of electioneering. There is a renewed spurt in the number of farm suicides across the country. My colleague Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, Hyderabad, today said that five farmers have been committing suicide ever day in the Vidharbha, and another five in the Telengana region. He has based his calculations on newspaper reports from the region. In Bundelkhand, civil society activist Sanjay Singh says in the past fortnight there have been on an average 2-3 farm suicides every day.
In Punjab, the food bowl of the country, Indian Express (May 13, 2014) reports ten farmers have committed suicide in last 40 days.
In Bundelkhand region, which cuts across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, 105 farm suicides were reported in the first three months of the year. Till Mar 31, Sanjay Singh had recorded 105 farmers who had taken their own lives. Reeling under mounting debt, these farmers had given up when the freak weather hit the standing crop in several parts of central India. In neighbouring Maharashtra, some 27 farmers had ended their life when hailstorm had flattened their standing crop in the month of March.
Only a day before, I read news reports stating two debt-ridden farmer brothers, Jugraj Singh (33) and Jagtar Singh (30) consumed poison to end their lives. They belonged to Hassanpur village in Mansa district of Punjab. They had taken a loan of Rs 3-lakh from the Punjab Cooperative Agriculture Development Bank in Budlada. They were issued a notice by the bank for non-payment of the pending amount, and unable to repay they preferred to end their lives. Unfortunately, their father had also committed suicide some 13 years ago.
While Punjab has launched a fresh study into farmer suicides, it has also set up a committee to frame a policy on farm suicides. This follows a directive from the Punjab and Haryana High Court to spell out a concrete policy framework to tackle suicides in the farm sector. In Punjab, 6,926 farmers and farm labourers have committed suicides ,in the ten year period 2001-10.
There are no dearth of studies to know why the farmers are being increasingly driven to end their own lives. Similarly, there is no end to to the number of committees set up at the State and Central level to come out with recommendations to end the malaise. So much so that the outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had made a visit to suicide hotspot Vidharbha soon after assuming office in 2004, but failed to stem the sordid tide. Planning Commission too was forced to screen the Bollywood film Pipli Live in Yojna Bhavan sometimes back showing clearly its casual approach in addressing agrarian crisis.
The serial death dance on the farm however continues unabated.
The spurt in farm suicides in the past few weeks is a demonstration of the apathy and neglect with which policy makes have treated agriculture. In fact, I find a kind of contempt that prevails in policy planning towards farming and agriculture. Farmers are being treated as if they are a burden on the society, and all efforts are to force them to abandon agriculture and migrate into the cities. The sooner the nation offloads this burden, the better it will be country's growth and development is what is generally perceived. I therefore don't see much of hope for India's farmers. Unless of course the new government decides to take a re-look at agriculture and adopts policies that brings back the pride in farming. The approach has to be on how to make agriculture economically viable and environmentally sustainable.
When will India stop treating farmer suicides as another set of statistics?