Even now, 100 farmer suicides in Vidarbha each month

By Shyam Pandharipande, IANS

Nagpur : Farmer suicides continue unabated in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region in central India – there were at least 95 cases in September – despite much talked about relief packages by the central and state governments, say activists.

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Around 15 suicides were reported in a matter of three days – Sep 27 to 29. This has taken the toll to 1,729 since the July 2006 announcement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s relief package, according to Kishor Tiwari, president of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS).

Hit by crop failure after incurring high input costs and being unable to repay loans, cultivators continue to take their own lives.

Of the 15 deaths, one each was reported from Bhandara and Chandrapur districts of east Vidarbha. While five came from Yavatmal, two each were reported from Amravati, Akola and Washim districts of west Vidarbha. Buldana district, also from west Vidarbha, and Wardha district of the region’s eastern part, account for one suicide each.

Giving the distressing update to IANS, Tiwari said the farm activists’ body would announce the future course of protests over the unabated suicides Oct 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.

VJAS, an activist outfit for farmers, has also chalked out a programme to bring succour to the families affected by farm suicides and motivate farmers to take to low cost farming and face the crisis boldly and intelligently rather than succumb to it.

The state government had, however, reiterated its claim before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Aug 31 that agriculture-related suicides have declined.

The government, with its widespread information collection machinery, generally shows a higher figure of farmer suicides than the one given out by VJAS based on newspaper reports – but it does not consider all to be related to farm distress.

Farm suicides in Vidarbha, which spurred Manmohan Singh to announce a Rs.37.50 billion relief package in July 2006 to supplement the earlier Maharashtra government package of Rs.10 billion, have been attributed to high input costs and correspondingly low farm produce prices leading to rising indebtedness.

Grossly inadequate irrigation facilities in the region – only four percent against the national average of 40 percent – as well as erratic monsoon and fluctuating market have aggravated the agricultural crisis.

The phenomenon, which became noticeable in 2001, has risen to alarming levels since 2004, pushing the government to set up committee after committee to go into the causes of farmers’ suicides and suggest remedies.

Ironically, there were more suicides in 2006, the year of the packages – 1,427 – than in the previous five years – 1,298. This led the prime minister to suggest to the state government Aug 31 to restructure the relief package though he accepted its claim that the incidence of distress-related suicides had fallen.

According to the official website, there were 99 suicides in January followed by 107, 113, 96, 102, 82 and 65 respectively in the next six months up to July. The website has no updates after July. Only 92 of these were genuine, farm distress- related suicides as per government criteria.

A striking aspect of the latest trend of farm suicides is that they are taking place even in the five districts of eastern Vidarbha that have not been included in the prime minister’s relief package or in the earlier one by the state government.

Wardha district in eastern Vidarbha that is included in the relief package along with five western Vidarbha districts reported four suicides last month.

Tiwari has attributed the unabated incidence of suicides to various shortcomings in relief and credit disbursement, resulting from corruption and insensitivity, apart from the government’s refusal to waive farm loans and raise the remunerative price of cotton.

Pointing out that continued rains have badly hit the standing crops of cotton and soybean, farm activist Vijay Jawandhia has said an advance bonus of Rs.500 per quintal to cotton cultivators would be absolutely necessary to bail them out of the crisis.