Death trail

Debt-laden Maharashtra farmers choose to die

Published: Friday 15 April 2005

over 644 farmers of Maharashtra, chiefly in Vidharbha, Marathwada and Khandesh regions, committed suicide between March 2001 and December 2004, according to a report submitted on March 16, 2005 to the Bombay High Court (hc) by Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (tiss). The hc had appointed tiss a consultant under a Public Interest Litigation (pil) filed by All India Biodynamic and Organic Farming Association. The report Causes of Farmer Suicides in Maharashtra: An Enquiry says the reasons behind the desperate move by the farmers was the failure of the state machinery to protect them.

"Repeated crop failures, inability to meet the rising cost of cultivation, and indebtedness...forces farmers to commit suicide...In the cotton belt, the crop seems to have failed more than once in the last four years...The causes are an increase in pest attacks...especially from 1995 onwards," reads the tiss report. The study found a steep rise in farmers' suicide cases between 2001 and 2004 (see table: Suicidal, suddenly). Of the total 644 cases, 36 were identified for in-depth analysis but information was collected for all. The study was spread across 12 districts. tiss reports a decline in land productivity, to cope with which farmers use a lot of fertilisers/pesticides, often to no avail. It says the input costs for agriculture has increased tremendously, chiefly due to increased usage of fertilisers/pesticides, rising prices of high yielding variety seeds, electricity bills, energy consumption (diesel) and transportation. The report also highlights the water crisis in affected areas. Another important reason for the crisis is that most farmers are involved in cash crop business but don't get any government aid like credit and support price. Almost 75 per cent of them have taken loans from the informal sector.

Meanwhile, the state government has been quick in the cover up attempt. It has announced payments worth Rs 1,200 crore to cotton farmers within the next three years. Chief secretary R M Premkumar has accepted the occurence of 524 suicide cases. Earlier, the government was admitting only 200 such cases. It issued a statement claiming that inquiry into 209 cases was complete and 187 of those were found invalid. But the tiss study detected debt as the cause of many suicides, which the government had described as not driven by debt. The government also says 22 families have received financial aid worth Rs 1 lakh each, a claim dismissed by Prakash Pohare, editor of Dainik Deshonnati , who is also a party to the pil.

tiss has recommended providing immediate ex-gratia payment of Rs 2.5 lakh to the family of each victim. It has asked the hc to direct the state government, the Union government, the Life Insurance Corporation of India, and the Agriculture Insurance Corporation of India to create an insurance safety net for farmers. The field-level agriculture extension work also needs to be revamped, it suggests.

Suicidal, suddenly
Rising anguish of Maharashtra farm
Year Number of Deaths
March 1 to December 31, 2001 41
January 1 to December 31, 2002 73
January 1 to December 31, 2003 129
January 1 to December 31, 2004 401
Total 644
Source: Ajay Dandekar et al 2005, Causes of Farmer Suicides in Maharashtra: An Enquiry, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, p 16

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