By Gobind Thukral*
Agrarian crisis: farmers’ suicides and the Indian government apathy
CHANDIGARH: Over the years, neglect of agriculture has resulted into its definite decline and it now counts a mere one fourth of India’s GDP. Economists like Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia term this as signs of development.
Forget about the all important role of the farm sector in providing food and wherewithal to survive for over 1.237 billion people, the truth which they conveniently forget are that it still provides employment to over 54 per cent in this poor populous country . It also ensures food security and thereby guarantees sovereignty. Hungry famished nations have little chance to survive as nations.
One wonders why these leaders and there are plenty of them around who have since 1990s neglected this all important sector of the Indian economy. It has been starved of funds and knowhow. Agriculture universities, once center of high ended research are starved of funds and the farmers have been left at the mercy of rent seeking sharks. The result is that not only the farm sector has been deprived of realizing its potential, but India’s strapping farmers have been pushed to the wall. Their tragic suicides stories are now a routine, particularly where they sow cash crops like cotton and sugarcane. Maharashtra has the dubious destination to lead where debt ridden farmers have been forced to commit suicides. Andhra, Kerala, West Bengal , Madhya Pradesh ,Punjab and several others states are losing their brave sons.
Here is the tragic tale of this self proclaimed super power. The extent of this tragic story, now figuring daily in the media, which otherwise is oblivious of looming agrarian crisis is horrendous. The official figure is 270,000 since 1995. Another study counted from government records 2, 84,694 for 18 years, between 1995 and 2012. The number, in fact, is more than that. Every half an hour a debt ridden farmer commits suicide.
In 1770 poet Oliver Goldsmith touched the core issue of the wretched conditions of the peasantry that fits India of 21st century.
“Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.”
During the last one decade – 2004 and 2014, India has added 50 billionaires to its list of four. Wealth created by the labor of millions is now in the pocket selected few.
Extent of the tragic tale of suicides
But more trustworthy are the figures quoted by well known journalist P. Sainath who has been drawing attention to this malady for the past more than a decade. He wrote, “Farm suicides rose sharply by almost 450 in Maharashtra in 2012 to touch 3,786, the latest National Crime Records Bureau data show. (The State saw 3,337 suicides in 2011). That is the worst annual increase in seven years. It also brings Maharashtra’s total tally since the NCRB began recording farm data in 1995 to a staggering 57,604 farmers’ suicides. Andhra Pradesh also saw an upward surge. It logged 2,572 farm suicides in 2012. That is 366 higher than the previous year’s figure of 2,206. Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh reported declines of 225 and 154 respectively.”
“The last of the ‘Big 5’ States”, he continues “account for over two-thirds of all farm suicides, Chhattisgarh, continued to declare a near zero figure. In 2012, it claimed it had just four. Chhattisgarh’s three-year average prior to its zero-declaration approach was 1,567. Indeed, the State’s own data, prior to that tactic, show it suffered 18,375 farm suicides between 2001-10.”
Sainath observed, “Other States seem inspired by Chhattisgarh’s methods. West Bengal sent in no data at all on farm suicides (or some other categories, too) in 2012. But its three-year average for 2009-2011 was 951. Chhattisgarh’s figure of ‘4’ and Bengal’s non-filing of data stand out in the all-India total of 13,754 farm suicides in 2012. If three-year averages for both States are included, then the national total would be 16,272. That would be the highest farm suicides figure in three years”
Among other major States, Kerala saw 1081 such farm deaths, a steep increase of 251 over its 2011 number of 830. Uttar Pradesh saw 745 farm suicides — up by 100 over its 2011 figure. Tamil Nadu reported a decline of 124 to log 499. That’s down from 623 the previous year.
No count each year since 1990, more and more farmers have been bidding goodbye to the world of their woes.
The major reason for such desperate steps by the farmers who are otherwise the core of armed forces in the county is the high cost of farming, high interest rates and poor return on their produce. Modern farming with its machines, costly inputs and intensive cropping patterns is a costly proposition, requiring heavy investment. Since the vast majority of the farmers are small and marginal, they are caught in the vicious circle and trapped by debt. The UPA government did try to mitigate this suffering by writing off debt worth Rs 77,000 crore. But it has had only marginal impact. Multinational companies like Monsanto with their long history of contamination and cover-up have only added to the gravity of the situation. According to Physicist and author Vandana Shiva who has been monitoring what is going on in these rural India, “The price per kilogram of cotton seeds has gone up from 7 to 17,000 rupees. Monsanto sells its GMO seeds on fraudulent claims of yields of 1,500 kg/year when farmers harvest 300–400 kg/year on an average.” Critics argue that Monsanto’s profit-driven policies have led to a “suicide economy” in India. (To be concluded)
*The writer is a senior journalist in India.
Source: South Asia Post (southasiapost.org)