Published On : Fri, Jan 6th, 2017

Farmer suicides rise alarmingly in state – is there any solution in sight?

farmer-suicideFigures do not matter any more – facts do.

And they paint a very frightening picture.

Let us digress for a bit here. What is the ONE thing that human beings all over the world HAVE to do to survive? Whether we are Indians or Pakistanis or American or Chinese – Hindus, Muslims, Christians or atheists, we all need to eat food in some form. Food grown by farmers. That is why probably it is an intercultural, international custom to “bless the grower – the nourishment provider” who comes next to God only.


“Annadata sukhi bhav” we chant in India invoking well being and happiness into the lives of those who provide us with food.

Well, either the Gods are not listening to us or something somewhere is going very wrong. Our farmers seem to have lost the will to live. Specially farmers in our part of the country, our state of Maharashtra. Let us, for the moment, not go into further region wise analysis here, though we all know what it will show!

This phenomenon was first brought into limelight in 2004 in a big way. It reached its peak in 2007 after which the figures were supposed to have begun to taper off.

But a record of the last 3 years shows, that this figure is alarmingly on the increase again.

Governments come and governments go. Some like a sensitive Manmohan Singh, express alarm and dismay and offer a multi crore package waiving off their loans. The suicides go down a bit after that,but don’t quite stop.

Then elections happen. In whirl wind campaigning across the nation,lots of promises are made to farmers.

If we are elected, you will definitely be given Minimum Support Price that will be fair and compensate you for all your input costs.

We will ensure that farming becomes a profitable business and you will get good returns on your investments.

We are going to be totally pro-farmer.

So went the promises which helped usher in a new government with land slide majority.
But did the suicides go down?

No, they have gone further up. From 879 in 2013 to 1106 in 2014 as reported in Parliament in 2015. A rise of 26%.

The figures for 2016 are not available yet, but 2015 also showed an alarming jump.

Suicides by farmers touched a grim high in 2015. The year that had recorded 2,590 suicides until October — the higher ever since 2001 — went on to register 610 more deaths in just the last two months. The death toll on December 31, 2015stood at 3,228, indicating that the slew of measures the government undertook through the year failed to arrest the disturbing trend.

The state of Maharashtra was the worst.

Data obtained from the government shows Vidarbha, the region Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis hails from, was the worst hit last year, with around 1,541 farmers from Amaravati and Nagpur division committing suicides. As many as 1,130 farmers ended their lives in the Aurangabad division of Marathwada. Nashik in North Maharashtra witnessed 459 cases of farmer suicides.

The last official update was at the end of September 2016 was this:

With 610 deaths in just two months, State records highest ever suicide by farmers.

How does this nightmare stop? How do we write a new script for our farmers who are losing hope in the very profession their families have been involved in for generations?

The very intentions of this government are suspect, alleges a former MLA of Vidarbha Naresh Chandra Thakre, a farmer himself.

“Suicides are on the rise” he says “since the governments at the Center and state have only been making announcements and declarations which they have not acted on. It is like telling a hungry man – ‘come, we invite you for a grand feast of puran poli and pulao’ – and then putting an empty plate in front. What they have done instead is taking away what they had once – now farmers are not getting even the SAME MSP as before!”

What about the Crop insurance scheme? In times of stress, like when there is a drought or floods, doesn’t it help?

“The crop insurance scheme is the biggest fraud on farmers devised to help Insurance companies only or some select farmers of certain areas” complained a cotton farmer of Amraoti district.

A closer look at the scheme does bear that out.

Comprehensive Crop Insurance Scheme(CCIS)

The Comprehensive Insurance Scheme (CIS) covered 15 states and 2 union territories. Participation in the scheme was voluntary. Around 5 million farmers and between 8-9 million hectares were annually covered by this scheme. If the actual yield in any area covered by the scheme fell short of the guaranteed yield, the farmers were entitled to an indemnity on compensation to the extent of the shortfall in yield. The General Insurance Corporation of India administered the scheme on behalf of the Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India.

A major drawback of the scheme could be seen from the fact that out of all the all-India claims of ₹16.23 billion (US$240 million), Gujarat, Modi’s home state alone received ₹7.92 billion (US$120 million) for one single crop, which was groundnut.

After the failure of the previous schemes, The PM in 2016 came out with a new one:

The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (Prime Minister’s Crop Insurance Scheme) was launched by the PM on 18 February 2016. It envisages a uniform premium of only 2 per cent to be paid by farmers for Kharif , and 1.5 per cent for Rabi crops. The premium for annual commercial and horticultural crops will be 5 per cent. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asked for integration .

This scheme is dedicated to bring in more than 50% of the farmers under its wing within the next 2–3 years. Around 25% of the claims will be sent to the farmer’s direct account.

This insurance scheme, unlike the previous ones, covers local calamities too, such as landslide, hailstorm, inundation, etc. inundation was not covered by the previous schemes.

“Farmers are being forced to pay premiums under this scheme” alleges Thakre. “Money is being put into the insurance account on the farmer’s name and amount deposited shown as loan against him by banks” he claims. “Crores have been forcefully deposited under such schemes without farmer’s willing consent” he says.

Farmers are also afraid that insurance payment will go the way compensations are doled out in case of suicides.Of the 3,228 suicides, the state has found only 1,841 eligible for government aid, while 903 were found ineligible. While 484 cases are pending for inquiries, ex-gratia aid has been extended to 1,818. Which means only about 1/3rd of the farmers’ families who committed suicide have received any compensation.

Why do farmers commit suicide?

Various reasons have been offered to explain why farmers commit suicide in India, including: floods, drought, debt, use of genetically modified seed, public health,usage of lower quantity of pesticides due to less investments produce a decreased yield and also government economic policies.

A study conducted in 2014, found that there are three specific characteristics associated with high risk farmers: “those that grow cash crops such as coffee and cotton; those with ‘marginal’ farms of less than one hectare; and those with debts of 300 Rupees or more.”

Amazing find isn’t it? A debt of Rs.300/ can cause a farmer to kill himself?!

I remember the tragic story of a young man in a white collared job in a city whose farmer father had just committed suicide by consuming pesticide.

Later, the young man found out that his father had owed Rs.5000/ to the bank and had gone to ask for more time to repay. The Bank Manager, who was the farmer’s son’s age approximately, humiliated the farmer and spoke to him rudely, denying his appeal. The farmer went home and ended his life.

“If he had told me, I would have easily given him the money” said the distraught son. “It was more the loss of face he suffered when spoken to like that which broke his spirit.”

In 2004, in response to a request from the All India Biodynamic and Organic Farming Association, the Mumbai High Court required the Tata Institute of Social Survey (TISS) to produce a report on farmer suicides in Maharashtra, and the institute submitted its report in March 2005. The survey cited “government’s lack of interest, the absence of a safety net for farmers, and lack of access to information related to agriculture as the chief causes for the desperate condition of farmers in the state.”

Governments have changed but the apathy remains. No one seems to be really looking into the core cause of the problem. All efforts seem to be akin to putting band aid over a life threatening injury!

Some times the solutions are worse than the problems

Suddenly a Finance wizard dabbling with agriculture will think of a ‘project’ to save farmers that involves giving ‘special loans’ for farming.

P. Sainath, a former journalist who has specialized in the study of farming woes of India, has written in his blog about the ‘tractor’ mela that was once unleashed on unsuspecting poor farmers of Marathwada.

The case of the tractor loan mela

He cites the case of Hirabai Fakira Rathod who was talked into buying a new vehicle in 2010 when many banks were on a ‘tractor loan’ spree. “The salesman at the tractor shop had told me that it was very easy to get and repay this loan,” she told us at her rundown dwelling in Kannad tehsil of Aurangabad district. The local branch of the State Bank of Hyderabad also processed the loan swiftly. Hirabai, whose husband is a retired forest guard, is a Banjara Adivasi and her large family held 3.5 acres in the same tehsil. “The idea was we could use it ourselves and also earn a bit more deploying it on other farms,” she says.

She was given a loan of Rs. 575,000 for a tractor worth Rs. 635,000. She had to repay that sum over seven years – at an interest rate of 15.9 per cent. “That was the worst mistake of my life,” she says bitterly, showing us the full account of the loan. Hirabai went broke after paying back well over Rs. 7.5 lakhs until March this year. At that point, the bank offered her a ‘one-time settlement’ (OTS) of Rs. 1.25 lakh. Which she paid by borrowing more money from relatives. “I did not want to leave this burden on my children’s heads,” she says. So she ended up paying over Rss. 9 lakhs for a tractor worth 6.35 lakhs which she did not need nor want.

And she was charged double interest on it, than a Doctor was charged in Aurangabad to purchase a Benz at the same time. Through a special ‘scheme’ whereby wealthy Aurangabad people were sold 150 Mercedez Benz in a day, a hefty discount was offered on the car price and the SBI proffered a special loan at 7% interest.

“The banks were on a tractor loan spree,” says Devidas Tuljapurkar, general secretary of the All India Bank of Maharashtra Employees Federation. “They had to meet their quota under ‘priority sector lending’ – and these could be shown as agricultural loans. And they were handed out at crippling interest rates to large numbers of people who should never have been saddled with them. Apart from the Hirabais who made a settlement, there were several who have paid back large amounts but have not managed an OTS. And many others who could repay nothing.”

Some similar present day schemes – the Orange juice factory

Amidst much fanfare, the present C.M. of Maharashtra announced that Jain group of Companies Jalgaon, that made irrigation pipes was setting up an Orange juice factory for the Orange farmers of Nagpur district.

“Once the factory comes up, orange farmers can get an assured rate for their produce and assured sales” he promised.

Dilip rao Hole, an orange grower of the area disclosed what the ‘joker in the pack’ of this scheme was.

Farmers would have to discontinue, even uproot their present brand of lose-jacket oranges (which are easy to peel and are popular as ‘table fruits’ ) and buy saplings of juice variety of oranges from Jains’ for a hefty sum.They get saplings of the present variety almost free from state run nurseries, or at a throw away price. This kind of orange has a tight skin and is good for juicing only. Like ‘mousambi’ it cannot be hand peeled.

“Suppose we do uproot our present trees and go in for this variety. Any orange tree requires 6 years to yield fruits. After 6 years if the juice factory is not running any more, what do we do with these oranges which will not sell as table fruits also?” Dilip asks.

It is amply clear that the solution to farmers suicides will not be yielded by Corporate India or babus who know nothing about agriculture, even if they are IAS officers.

“We need to get out of the net we are caught in and may be go back to our roots, our old way of doing farming.” Says Thakre, the former MLA from Morshi.

“Wrong – Modi had laid out the solution in his pre election speeches. He needs to follow up on them” says Vijay Jawandhia, well known farm leader.

(read interview with Jawandhia that follows)

… Sunita Mudaliar (Associate Editor )