Why are India's farmers committing suicide?
Farmer suicides have been taking place across India for years now, and studies of rural distress reveal the deeply-rooted, tenacious causes, such as lack of irrigation, fragmentation of land, unsuitability of seeds and inadequate sources of credit.
 
Despite the democratically-elected governments that claim to represent a country where over half the population is dependent on farming, agriculture has been consistently ignored at a steep cost to farmers' lives. Remedies have been tried -- the state waived loans to small and marginal farmers ahead of elections and such sops were criticised after elections for disrupting credit discipline among the borrowers.
 
The crisis provided an opportunity to try more adventurous "remedies"; farmers were cornered into using expensive, genetically-engineered seeds, even when these added heavily to the cost of cultivation of crops like cotton, further indebting them. Although this generated hope, which helped the governments get re-elected, none of the remedies worked. The question remained: Why did farmers commit suicide, bringing a bad name to "popular" governments?
 
So it became prudent and necessary for the state that other causes for the suicides were invented, such as alcoholism, depression, vices, etc. Farmers were blamed for being ambitious, extravagant, adventurous, lazy, cowardly, and too emotional. Camps were set up to help them cope with life's stresses, charities were organised and advice was dispensed. Additionally, the state found the usual way of containing the situation; not all farmer suicides would be recognised as such. There were rules to dying; only those deceased farmers who had unpaid bank loans in their names or in the names of their families, and had land in their names or in the names of their families, were considered to fall in the "farmer suicide" category.
 
These "correct" suicides of the farmers, verified through this process, earned them compensation money, which was given to their widows. Once again the state expected that such monetary relief would make the farmers, and voters in general, appreciate the kindness of the politicians and re-elect them. And once again, it was not a remedy. The question still persisted: Why did farmers commit suicide despite such "generosity" of the state?
 
Again, it became imperative for the state to find other reasons to explain why it failed to contain farmer suicides. It was believed that the compensation itself encouraged farmers to kill themselves; that the Rs 1 lakh might have increased the toll, and that farmers who died due to other reasons were shown as farmer suicides. But the state knew the truth, because the compensation procedure ensured that each farmer suicide was investigated in depth. The state was aware that farmer suicides happened because of one essential reason -- the farmer's sense of fairness and responsibility was hurt by his continued inability to repay debts.
 
This explanation was in stark contrast to the ease with which the state and politicians tried arbitrary solutions to farm distress and blamed farmers for their own deaths. It was an inconvenient truth that would have shifted the guilt to the state and was, therefore, never told. Meanwhile, the question continued: Why did farmers commit suicide, denting the image of every charismatic Prime Minister of the country and every dynamic Chief Minister of the state?
 
Farmer suicides reflect the crisis brewing through several phases of structural transformation of the rural sector. The first phase, from the early 1950s to the mid-1960s, focused on land reforms, irrigation, and objectives like supply of credit, which are yet to be uniformly achieved. The second phase was the Green Revolution, during which the implications for distribution of resources, and economic and social development were ignored, and agricultural development was measured through productivity. The last phase was the period of economic reforms and globalisation, which only widened and deepened the inequalities.
 
During this time, and under the aegis of politically-correct pro-farmer governments, agriculture had become particularly difficult in rain-fed areas due to a fall in public investment in irrigation and infrastructure, and in technological research and innovations. Maharashtra presented the contradictory picture of extreme agricultural failure along with high non-agricultural growth. This disparity was sharpest in western Vidarbha, where the farmer was entirely at the mercy of the weather, the market, and the state's indifference.
 
The wide regional as well as inter-district differences suggest the study of the region as a unit, like Vidarbha, which displayed the severe impact of farm neglect. Further, owing to the intensity and length of the farm crisis, the study of Vidarbha mapped the diversity of conditions and the common factors for farmers' distress, such as indebtedness, rising costs of cultivation, declining returns, and inadequate policy support.
 
The region also indicated how small and marginal farming could not be sustained without substantial public infrastructure support, and that the solution had to include initiatives of both policy and civil society. In what might be true for the entire nation, agricultural distress in Vidarbha was also worsened by the opportunism of the political class that used the crisis in blame-games instead of meaningful and timely interventions.
 
The neglect that the farmers face through their lives has no witnesses, except perhaps, their wives. They knew how the state ignored their husbands while they were alive, how their desperate applications for welfare were dismissed, how many times their husbands visited the collectorates for relief, how much money was spent appeasing local officers like tehsildars, gram sevaks, panchayat members, talathis, etc. The wives had seen their husbands lose faith, and found the empty pesticide bottles that had ended their lives. These were the caring mothers who rescued the memories of their fathers for their children, shielding them from the painful facts.
 
These were the grieving women who, within days of a suicide, convinced the state of the good mental condition of their husbands, signed documents attesting to the "truth", and accepted the meagre cheques. But for the state, they did not exist. After all, what did the widows of farmers know about agriculture, crop management, bank loans, private debts, land documents, health bills, power connections, panchayat politics, children's education? The short answer was -- everything.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

 

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COMMENTS

Sharad Pant

1 year ago

Very nicely captured the reasons of farmer’s suicide. The first thing is the dignity; people should look towards farmers as Annadata and not as poor person. Everyone should try to give him his sweat money. We are not bargaining in medical shop, the companies are selling 50 paise tablet in 50 rupees but no one bothering about it, in big malls we are not talking about price. But when onion, tomato, vegetables price going high we all are started shouting and when agriculture commodity prices going down we feel happy, but we have to think about the farmer. For example if farmers spending Rs. 10 per kg as a cultivation and harvesting cost and he will get Rs. 5/- per kg market rate where he will go, he will be happy or he will do suicide????

Dayananda Kamath

1 year ago

When you incentivise suicide and give all sorts of benefits to be unproductive these things are bound to happen. In Karnataka when an enquiry was made in farmers suicide the rate of suicide declined. In India no one wants to adversely comment on dead. This is also being used to inentivise death. A death is a death don't brand it. Deal it like that all these issue will vanish.

Shrik S

1 year ago

Interestingly the other day in a session by The New Indian Express with Mr. Sabharwal of Teamlease, he was of the opinion that India should try and reduce the 50mil farmers that are currently supporting the agrarian economy to not more than 2mil; the rest should be sucked out of the farm into more formal economy; this may be a move done with planning given the farm land is reducing in India at a high rate, with land being sold out for constructions and shamelessly ever growing human settlement; farmers' kids are moving into service sectors, places like Nasik, students moving out of farming homes into cities to work. However, the human aspects are now no longer addressed in any of the industrial, knowledge economies - humans have just become resources to be used, misused, abused and overused by more 'superior thinking' humans - farmers be damned!

Ramesh I

1 year ago

India has mostly had a agrarian economy with the agri sector employing almost half of the total workforce in India. Yet, this sector has always been grossly mismanaged without adequate policy changes or planning during droughts etc. Why are farmers in drought-prone States like Maharashtra encouraged to grow water-intensive crops like sugarcane and paddy ? This has made sugar cooperative very powerful and powerful politicians tend to control such cooperative, influencing both govt policies in the area, as well as dictate choice of crops to be sown by farmers in these regions. This is gross mismanagement of resources leading to obvious penury of farmers. No Govt wants to address root causes of farmers' plight and only indulge in populist measures like loan waivers, waiver of electricity bills, water bills etc. This, while farming income remains untaxed.

Pune tops in improved quality governance: Survey
Pune has emerged as the top city to show improvement in quality of governance, according to a survey released on Wednesday.
 
The other cities that came in the top five include Kolkata, Thiruvananthapuram, Bhubaneswar and Surat while Bengaluru, Chandigarh, Dehradun, Patna and Chennai constituted the bottom five cities, said the survey conducted by Janaagraha Centre for Citizenship and Democracy.
 
Janaagraha released its 5th edition of its Annual Survey of India's City-Systems (ASICS), which evaluated the quality of governance in 23 major cities across 20 states based on 89 questions.
 
"ASICS does not measure quality of infrastructure and services such as roads and traffic, garbage, water, housing, sanitation and air pollution but instead measure the preparedness of cities to deliver high quality standards, municipal finance and staffing, political leadership at the city level and transparency and citizen participation," said Anil Nair, Deputy Head, Advocacy and Reforms at Janaagraha.
 
According to the study, Bhubaneswar stood out for showing steady improvement and moving six positions to fourth this year from tenth position in 2016 while two new cities added this year -- Guwahati and Vishakhapatnam -- showed disappointing results.
 
"Significant delay in conduct of council elections in Vishakhapatnam and Chennai pulled down the scores in these cities because this also have a cascading effect on aspects such as formation of ward committees, gender representation in the council etc," said Janaagraha in a statement.
 
"The report underlines the need for sharp focus on city-systems or institutional reforms to city governance in our cities. This indicates slow progress on fixing city-systems which is worrisome given the pace at which India is urbanising and the already poor state of public service delivery in our cities," it added.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
 

 

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Mahavitaran set to lose Rs130 crore funding as adamant local bodies refuse to lower road digging charges
Due to the alleged lackadaisical attitude of local self-bodies, including BrihanMumbai Municipal Corp (BMC), the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Co Ltd (MSEDCL) or Mahavitaran is set to lose Rs130 crore given by the centre, under Integrated Power Development Project (IPDP) to improve power distribution network in Mumbai and neighboring areas.
 
Mahavitaran was supposed to set up two sub-centers, one in Mumbai and other in Thane, one switching center in Kalyan-Dombivli, to provide feeder pillars and lay high and low tension power cables in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Kalyan-Dombivali, Panvel and Uran, for which it has already received Rs130 crore under IPDP from the centre.
 
It is expected to spend Rs15.10 crore in Mumbai, Rs6.93 crore in Navi Mumbai, Rs59.09 crore in Kalyan-Domivali, Rs6.33 crore in Panvel, Rs40.24 crore in Thane and Rs4.56 crore in Uran Nagar Parishad area towards the cost of augmenting power distribution network
 
However, Mahavitaran is unable to lay underground cables unless it pays necessary charges to respective local body and obtain permissions to dig the roads. Besides the cost of road digging is prohibitive, according to MSEDCL officials. For example, the cost of road digging is slated to be Rs119 crore in Mumbai, compared to Rs59.09 crore that Mahavitaran will be spending to lay cables and carry out related work.
 
Similarly in Navi Mumbai, the cost of road digging is Rs26.47 crore, compared to Rs6.93 crore that Mahavitaran will have to spend for laying cables. In Kalyan-Dombivali, the road digging charges are nearly double- Rs119 crore as against Rs59.09 crore required for laying cables.
 
Mahavitaran has already urged these local bodies to reduce the cost of road-digging, But they have not relented. Speaking to this correspondent, Mahavitaran spokesman PS Patil said that the company has already written to these local bodies and has been following up the matter without fruitful result. “We are yet to get response. If the same situation continues, we will not be able to utilize fund received from the Centre and eventually we will have to return that amount. Also we will be required to explore some other way of financing”.
 
“In fact, during a meeting held on 24 August 2017, which was presided over by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, it was decided that the urban development department would direct all local bodies to reduce the cost of cable laying in their respective area or collect charges for digging roads only to the extent of 20% of the labour cost or Rs100 per running meter cable. Such a pattern is followed by the Nagpur Municipal Corp. However, up till now no other bodies has adopted this ‘Nagpur pattern’,” Patil added.
 
The BMC roughly charges Rs8,000 per metre for trenching on concrete roads. There are over a dozen entities, like Mahanagar Gas, MTNL as well as mobile and internet service providers, who dig roads and footpaths to lay cables and pipes. Over 400kms of roads are dug every year by various utility agencies. The utility companies are required to pay around Rs8,500 per running metre (a metre multiplied by the width of the footpath or road) to BMC for digging up footpaths made using paver blocks and for asphalt and cement concrete roads. This is known as the base restoration rate.
 
In view of the poor digging work by private contractors, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) had steeply revised rates for road repairs for most of the agencies except Mahanagar Gas and Mahavitaran. As against the previous charge of Rs2,795 per sq meter, the NMMC now charges Rs9,600 per sq meter. The repairs to non-asphalted road now costs Rs3,300 per square meter as against Rs1,348 earlier. Besides, a separate fee of Rs3,000 is levied for using the ducts for laying of cables internally. The NMMC area has about 500kms of road and around 50-kms area of various roads undergoes digging in some form or another. Although some concession is given to Mahavitaran, the rates are still quite high.
 
Mahavitaran has nearly 2.08 crore consumers all over Maharashtra, including about 1.58 crore residential, over 38 lakh agricultural, nearly 16 lakh commercial and 3.86 lakh industrial consumers. In Mumbai, it supplies power to over 10 lakh consumers in eastern suburbs of Kanjur, Bhandup, Mulund, Navi Mumbai and Thane and adjoining areas.
 
As per the IPDP formulated in 2014, the funds are given to the states, by the Union Energy Ministry to different states to carry out work such as: to strength sub-transmission and distribution network, metering of distribution transformers, feeders, consumers in the urban areas and IT enablement of distribution sector. Under the scheme, towns having over 15000 population are considered to ensure 24x7 power supply to consumers, reduction of wise ‘Aggregate Technical & Commercial (AT&C) losses’ and to provide access to all urban households. About 60% cost is given by the Central Government, 10 per cent is borne by the state government and 30 per cent is the loan component to be obtained from banks and financial institutes.  
 
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Ramesh I

1 year ago

The allocation by the Centre to Mahavitaran should have included the incidental costs, like this road-digging, which is necessary for it to complete its work. Else, the State Govt ought to pitch in, in the interest of its own people who will benefit from better and more reliable power supply after such work. Reflects poor planning and coordination between various govt bodies, besides the usual lack of coordination between Union and State Govts.

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