Why then governments allow farmers suicides even now?
There were two farmers suicides in the month of July. The two were in Karnataka. One in Tumkur district and another in Gulbarga district. The Tumkur farmers committed suicide by hanging himself in his field and the causes are the same ones known to the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi! So, too we hope the Gulbarga farmer. one of the many who flock the command area around the Upper Krishna Project in the district to cultivate high value crops like chillies and cotton.
We hope we need not go into the details of the losses made by the AP farmers cultivating chillies. But for those who sit cosy in Delhi bungalows and plush government offices, here are a brief indication what was lost. On average, chilli growers suffered losses ranging from Rs.1 lakh to Rs.3 lakhs on cultivation on 10 acres of land. The suicide farmer, Edukondalu, had taken up chilli cultivation on 10 acres in Ganwar in Jewargi (the state CM. Dharam Singh’s constituency) taluk he incurred a loss of Rs.2 lakhs because of the fall in prices. Many farmers families had deserted their camps and moved to AP because of the heavy crop losses. Thankfully, the newspaper report goes into some detail and how even the fertilise soil of the UKP command area, a” a goldminde” for AP farmers had led to the tragedy. Tragedy to many farming families. Some farmers have reported they have lost at the rate Rs.5 lakhs each. While the high value varieties of chillies, Bayadgi variety, fetched Rs.7,000 a quintal. Suddenly fell to Rs.2,000. The other Guntur variety, fell from Rs.2,500 to just Rs. 1,000.
“Even farmers who had taken up cultivation of cotton had burnt their fingers because the failure of BT cotton and other varieties also failed this season. “While leaving their camps, the AP farmers left behind dumps of chilli in their fields, worth several lakhs of rupees, which was rotting as they could not get the remunerative price for their produce. “There was a chain reaction. Farmers could not pay their lease rent for their fields or the wages for farm labour.
On the very same day of this news item, alongside was another news item. Policemen were on rounds (we don’t know whether there was any lathi charges or not) when the Agriculture Produce Market Committee Act of 2003 was amend and the traders, farmers, marketing yard personnel were staged a bandh. Why? The APMC Act amendment is seen as the government giving in to the MNCs in retail and wholesale trade and that would hit the farmers to get the best prices for their produce.
We do not know the details or the intricacies of the APMC Act. What we know for sure is that the farmers are facing the distress sales of chillies, not only in the one place we have detailed but also in other century old chillies market in Karnataka and elsewhere.
Mr.Deve Gowda, the former PM, is heading a highly strong pro-farmers party and also holding a critical role in ensuring the coalition government hangs on! Gowda also could give some shock to the UPA government in Delhi, if he chooses to do so!
There is a feeling among the farmers of the Karnataka state that Gowda could do much in pursing lot of pro-farmers policies in Delhi. But sop far there is no indication. Rather he seems to be having his own priorities. As an experienced politician he might have his own reasons why he interferes in the Bangalore Metro rail project, why he doesn’t in the farmers issues. Luckily, the Karnataka Dy. CM, Mr.Siddaramaiah, who comes from a predominately small farmers, sheep farming community, has been doing some really genuine radical changes. The crop loans interest rate had been brought down to 6 per cent. Why the PM thinks it fit to ask other state governments to do the same for crop loans?
The irony is there was this news item on the same day. That was about the “second” meeting of the “task force on rural development”. The way the newspapers report this meeting suggests as if it is a UN general assembly meeting! It was a routine bureaucratic exercise considering the “presentations’ by ministries and the ,as usual, P.Chidamabaram’s interventions! All the task force was to discuss was to allot funds for rural roads and rural electrification and additional irrigation.
This is no meeting where the PM should waste his precious time. Rural infrastructure is very important. In fact, we feel, this one-year government which didn’t do much in one year, can do nothing but only concentrate on “infrastructure” alone! Please do what the predecessor government did for National High Ways. Dr.Singh will be remembered only for such initiatives. Not for his silent, all pure all correct conduct of day to day existence!
What rural infrastructure is critical? It is IT connectivity. So, expand broadband connectivity. Set targets. Build rural godowns that will store farmers produce. Cold storages that would preserve perishables for some months. If info-kiosks are installed, farmers can access latest information and also know when to move their crops and where. There must be a price stabilisation funds for ensuring stabilising the prices of sensitive crops like chillies and vegetables and fruits.
MNCs are not evils. Not any more in farming. But there is a need to define what MNCs can and cant do in rural areas. Contract farming is an inevitable current need. Not MNCs, even state level agencies, private sector would come in, as textile mills in Coimbatore are doing in cotton cultivation on contract farming. There are now any number of small scale initiatives by farmers themselves, in contract farming projects, for a number of crops. What New Delhi does not know or what it does not care to know is the fact that banks are terribly ignorant. Why, we know many PSU banks are openly hostile to farmers! The Nabard and banks officials are so ignorant they do not know the latest developments, be it agri information or use of Internet information or an open mind. In India’s biggest bank, there are 5 layers of bureaucracy in the zonal office. Their branch manager takes up a project. After making farmers spend money, time over two months, the zonal office ignoramuses talk through their hats!
Farmers distress comes in plain government indifference. See UPA’s promises not being kept! Banks are not willing to give agri credit! There are market failures! Then, there is a blacout of this rural reality in New Delhi!
Whom to blame? Taking their lives is the only left out choice for farmers who are forced to the wall!