95 farm suicides in a month in Andhra Pradesh

State authorities hide actual number of deaths

By M Suchitra
Published: Thursday 29 December 2011

farm distress

Allam Sattenna, a 35-year-old farmer from Perkalaguda, a small hamlet near Utnoor in Andhra Pradesh’s Adilabad district, owned farms spread over 0.8 hectare (ha). He took another 1.2 ha on lease by paying Rs 6,000 per acre (0.4 ha). Motivated by the high prices last year, Sattenna planted cotton  in all of the 2 ha which is rain fed.

But he could not harvest even one quintal cotton from the entire land in the first picking. His crop failed due to scanty rains and long dry spells. Worse, cotton price fell to Rs 3,500 a quintal—half of what it fetched last year because the demand for cotton in the international market was falling. Having borrowed Rs 20,000 from a local money lender last year, and with an additional debt of Rs 50,000 this year, he found no means to tide over the crisis. He ended his life in October by consuming pesticide.

He left behind a wife and a seven-year-old son. His wife, Allam Vijayamma, struggling to survive, is not even aware that a relief package exists for the families of farmers who commit suicide. “Nobody has come to me to ask about my husband’s death,” she says. Not even the village revenue officials, who should have verified and recorded the suicide as per a government order of 2005.
Despair driven by delayed and scanty rains

Andhra Pradesh is witnessing yet another spate of farm suicides. Delayed rainfall, prolonged dry spells, subsequent crop failures and unfriendly government policies have forced many farmers to kill themselves. Even as the state government maintains there were only 66 “genuine” farm suicides in the whole state between January and November in 2011, a recent report estimates as many as 95 farmers have ended their lives within a span of just one month in six districts. Cotton farmers account for maximum farm suicides.

The report, prepared by the Alliance for Sustainable Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), a nation-wide informal network of more than 400 organisations from 20 states, was based on a fact-finding survey in Adilabad, Anantapur, Karim Nagar, Medak, Mehbubnagar and Khammam districts, and on media reports on farm suicides between October and November 2011. The driest district of Anantapur tops the list with 24 suicides. Adilabad is second with 18 (see table).

Farm suicide deaths ( October 7 to November 8, 2011)
District No of Suicides
Adilabad 18
Medak 13
Karimnagar 13
Khamma 17
Mahaboobnagar 10
Ananthapur 24
Total 95
Source: Rytu Swarajya Vedika, Andhra Pradesh

“What we found is that farm suicides are no more limited to a few particular crops like cotton or to some regions, but spread across all districts and farmers growing all kinds of crops,’’ says G V Ramanjaneyalu, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, a non-profit based in Hyderabad. The fact-finding study of 20 families found suicides were genuine and purely due to farm-related reasons.

Andhra Pradesh is one of the five states in the country that has been witnessing a large number of farm suicides for the past one decade. The state along with Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh contribute to 66 per cent of the total farm suicides in India. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) estimates 2,525 farmers committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh in 2010. 

Crisis more severe this year

  • Severe drought and sharp increase in the seed and fertilizer prices hit the farmers very hard
  • The state, which normally receives an annual average rainfall of 624.1 mm during Kharif season, got 14 per cent less rainfall this year
  • Scanty rains in June delayed sowing of rain-fed crops like cotton, groundnut and maize by up to one month
  • This delay affected crop growth while prolonged dry spells in September led to less yields
  • More than 280,000 ha of farms were not sown during kharif in 14 of the 23 districts; crops on 2.06 million ha dried up
  • The state government declared more than three fourth of its administrative blocks (mandals)—876 out of 1,128—drought-hit
When is a farm suicide a suicide

  • Five documents have to be obtained from the local police station: a first information report, a panchnama report, a post-mortem report (which has to be paid for by the family), a forensic science laboratory report and a final report
  • Other documents required are: private loan documents and/or bank loan documents as proof that the farmer was indeed indebted, the land passbook, dependents’ certificate, ration card and three years agriculture pahani (revenue records)
  • Besides all these documents, there has to be a report from the mandal-level verification committee, which consists of the mandal revenue officer, a police sub-inspector and the agriculture officer
  • Finally, a division level verification committee report is required from the revenue divisional officer, deputy superintendent of police and assistant director of agriculture
An earlier report, which was submitted in 2004 by the Commission on Farmers' Welfare, appointed by the government of Andhra Pradesh, to then chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy, had observed that agriculture in Andhra Pradesh was in an advanced state of crisis. “Drought-affected areas in Rayalaseema and Telangana bear the brunt of the burden, though, even farmers in irrigated areas have been facing problems. In addition, the burden has fallen disproportionately on small and marginal farmers, tenant farmers and rural labourers,” the report noted.

The report had also very clearly underscored the fact that “the economic strategy of the past decade at both Central and state government levels has systematically reduced the protection afforded to farmers and exposed them to market volatility and private profiteering without adequate regulation.”

“Nothing has changed since then,” says S Malla Reddy, state president of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). The anti-farmer policies and reforms started in 1997 by then chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu of Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are being carried forward more aggressively by the Congress chief ministers, he says.

Criteria skewed

The crisis is far more serious this year (see 'Crisis more severe this year'). The state government declared more than three fourth of its administrative blocks (mandals)—876 out of 1,128—drought-hit.

But the present mechanism for declaring drought and providing relief—compensation of Rs 6,500 per ha for crop loss—are inadequate, say farmers and organisations working in the farm sector. At present, drought is announced only when more than 50 per cent of the cropped area dries up, yields fall short by 50 per cent and the rainfall is less than 20 mm in a month. Many mandals, like Jangaon in Warrangal district, which do not meet these criteria, are still left out even after experiencing drought, crop failure and reporting suicides.

“We’re fighting to get our mandal declared drough-hit,” says P Upendher, AIKS Jangaon mandal secretary. Hundreds of suicide deaths were reported from Warrangal and other cotton growing regions 1997 onwards.

Cropping systems have significantly changed in the past few years with large tracts being brought under commercial crops like cotton, maize, groundnut and paddy. At present, these four crops cover 90 per cent of the cropped area in the state. This year, in Andhra Pradesh, 1.9 million ha (25 per cent of the total cropped area in the state) is under cotton, mostly in rain-fed areas. “Even if the crops did not fail, the situation would have been disastrous for most of these farmers because of the price fall,” says Vasudeva Reddy, Warrangal district president of AIKS.  

The latest study by ASHA notes that the cost of cultivation has increased enormously. The fertilizer costs have been increasing steadily after the nutrient based subsidy scheme was introduced, and in the past one year the DAP (diammonium phosphate) fertilizer price has doubled. Further, the costs of seeds have increased by more than 100 per cent in the past five years. In rain-fed areas, farmers spend large amounts on sinking borewells, many of which fail to yield water. The cost of each borewell is about Rs 50,000.

Genuine and not genuine suicides

The report highlights the reasons for suicides. These include: increasing costs of cultivation of all crops; non-remunerative prices (both in the markets and in government procurement system); unsustainable cropping patterns and production practices; dependence of mono-cropping of cotton and other commercial crops in rain-fed areas; lack of support systems for farmers such as institutional credit; lack of recognition of tenant farmers; and no provision for access to credit, insurance and crop compensation in rain-fed farms which constitute more than 60 per cent of the crop area.

Instead of addressing the root causes of the farm crisis, the state government is trying to suppress the actual number of suicides by classifying such deaths as “genuine” and “non-genuine”, points out the report. Last year, when NCRB put the suicide figure in the state at 2,525, the state government’s data claimed there were only 158 farm suicides. Now when the media reports more than 90 suicides in one month in six districts, the government figure for the whole state for 11 months is 66.

The gap between the real number and official figures is largely because of the documents required to establish that the death of a farmer is a genuine case of suicide purely caused by farm-related reasons. The process of assessment of a farm suicide has become complicated ever since the state government introduced a system of compensation for the families in 2005. At present, 13 documents are required to establish a farm suicide (see 'When is a farm suicide a suicide').

“How can the farmers’ families produce all these documents?” asks Malla Reddy. “When tenant farmers, who do not own land, commit suicide, how can their families produce land document?” There are over 250,000 tenant farmers in the state. Only a minority of them, have identity cards, which enable them to avail bank loans. Others are forced to borrow from money lenders. “And when they end their lives out of desperation, it’s not considered as genuine and their names never figure in the official list of suicide deaths.”

Instead of suppressing the suicide death figures, what the government should do is to promote a model of sustainable agriculture, and also introduce a “price compensation” system, especially for all the food crops where minimum support price (MSP) is declared. “Whenever the MSP or actual market prices do not meet the target price, which is equal to cost of cultivation plus 50 per cent, the difference should  be paid to the farmer directly. The farmer should no longer be forced to bear the burden of keeping food prices low for consumers, says Ramanjaneyulu. The fact-finding survey found that in most of the cases, the three member committee which is supposed to verify the cases and report has never visited the grieving families. 

As an immediate step, the report demands the state governments should identify all farmers who have suffered crop failure in the past three years at least and provide them compensation of minimum Rs 10,000 per acre, ensuring that tenant farmers are included. Government should assess crop failure immediately and disburse compensation without any delay so that farmers are reassured that they will not get into further debt. This would prevent thousands of more suicide deaths.

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