Agriculture

Maharashtra rejects more agri insurance claims even as farm suicides double

No data on suicides across India since 2015; number of claim rejections far exceeded number of cases approved in 2016-18

 
By Gajanan Khergamker
Last Updated: Monday 11 March 2019
A farmer's body being taken for cremation. Photo: Sayantoni Pal Choudhuri/CSE
A farmer's body being taken for cremation. Photo: Sayantoni Pal Choudhuri/CSE A farmer's body being taken for cremation. Photo: Sayantoni Pal Choudhuri/CSE

Over the last four years, the number of farmer suicides has doubled in Maharashtra — from 6,268 farmer suicides between 2011 and 2014, to 11,995 between 2015 to 2018, according to an Right To Information (RTI) reply by the Maharashtra revenue department.

A lofty insurance scheme initiated in December 2018 for farmers does not cover suicides thereby defeating its very purpose. And this may just be the tip of the iceberg.

Even the paltry compensation of Rs 1 lakh is being denied to many farmer families. For example, in 2014, 1,358 farmer families received the compensation, while 674 cases were rejected. In 2018, the number of rejections increased to 1,050 and cases approved fell to 1,330.

Among all the divisions in Maharashtra, Amravati has recorded the highest number of suicides over the years and, is known to be the worst drought-affected area in the state. Amravati is part of the Vidarbha region which has seen farmer suicides for decades now. While a majority of cases of compensation have been rejected here, in both 2016 and 2018, the number of rejections far exceeded the number of cases approved.

Data shows that in 2016, while 465 cases for compensation were approved, 541 cases were rejected. Similarly, in 2018, while 398 cases for compensation were approved, 454 cases were rejected. It is the police that registers a death as a suicide. Further, only the families aware or informed about the compensation process apply for it before the relevant authority.

“The criteria for rejections are ambiguous and it depends entirely on the whims of the committee that decides if the claim fulfills the compensation criteria. Sadly, most of the committees are insensitive to the situation of farmers,” said Mumbai-based activist Jeetendra Ghadge, who made the RTI query.

It may be recalled that in March 2015, then state Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse had announced an increase in compensation from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh. He also announced a life insurance policy that would cover all farmers.

An RTI query on the same reveals that the decision on Khadse’s announcement is still pending. In regards to the life insurance scheme, the state government initiated the ‘Gopinath Munde Accident Insurance scheme’ on December 1, 2018, states the RTI reply.

“Sadly, when examined closely, the circular only covers ‘accidents’ and does not mention the word ‘suicide’,” says Ghadge. He adds that this “defeated the very purpose of the insurance scheme”.

“The situation of farmers in Maharashtra, just like farmers across the country, has only worsened. Loan waivers or crop insurance don't seem to work. Besides, when it comes to rehabilitation of the family whose member has committed suicide, the government seems to reject majority of the proposals for compensation revealing the level of insensitivity,” says Ghadge.

Statistics on “deaths by suicide” are available with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), but only till 2015. The 2016 NCRB data on deaths no more mentions suicides, and no other official data on suicides has been released since then.  

An RTI query to the police department in Maharashtra’s Sangli district revealed that 1,988 farmers committed suicide between January 2011 and October 2015, but only 39 cases were attributed to the debt burden.

Further, of the 39 cases, only 18 families have received compensation from the state.

Official records reveal reasons for the suicides to be “mental disorders”, “family problems” or “alcoholism” — these reasons are key during government decisions to grant compensation for suicides.

However, attributing hundreds of suicide cases to “unknown reason” raises doubts about the authenticity of the probe, sincerity of the police as well as the revenue administration in mitigating the distress of farmers.

Several indications point to the state’s lack of readiness to provide relief, hinting at possible under-reporting of farm distress or poor probe into the suicides. “The situation must be manifold worse in the drought-hit areas. There is a huge disconnect between the political and the administrative machinery,” says Mr Ghadge.

“Officials have little empathy for farmers and are simply insensitive to their needs. Even if there is political will, it does not percolate down to the officials who systematically thwart the system depriving it of any solution,” adds Ghadge.

Solutions can’t be restricted to Minimum Support Prices or state buy-backs. There is an urgent need to raise awareness and educate the farmer.

“Look at most farmers who are ignorant and stick to traditional farming patterns. If one sells a good crop, the rest of them start to grow the same in the next season, and concurrently suffer losses due to an excess in supply and fall in prices,” says Ghadge, who farms at his uncle’s plot in Pune district.

Along with educating the farmer, the state must ensure that the demand constantly exceeds the supply. Also, bureaucrats should be sensitised towards the farmers’ needs, failing which the disconnect between the villages and the rest of India will persist.

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