Maharashtra govt. accuses PMO of delay in releasing funds for farmers,000…
Satya Prakash

New Delhi, February 28, 2007

The Maharashtra Government has accused the Prime Minister’s Office of delay in releasing additional funds for ex-gratia assistance to suicide-affected farmers’ families in the state.
Due to undue delay in release of money from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund for this purpose, an amount of Rs 1.80 crore had to be earmarked from the chief minister’s fund for the purpose, the Maharashtra Government said in an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court.
This component of the package authorised district collectors to sanction Rs 10,000 for a suicide-affected family for health and education related expenses, it said, adding an amount of Rs 50 lakh each was placed for disposal with the six District Collectors for this purpose in August 2006.
“This amount has fully been disbursed to the needy families and the state government has been requesting the Prime Minister’s Office for additional funds. The state government has even earmarked Rs 1.80 crore from the chief minister’s fund, with a view to keep the scheme running…otherwise the scheme had to be stopped due to delay in receiving grants from the Prime Minister’s Office,” the Maharashtra Government said in its affidavit.
The affidavit has been filed in response to a PIL by advocate Sanjiv Bhatnagar seeking review of the current agriculture policy in view of suicides committed by thousands of farmers in various parts of the country.
The court had on August 14, 2006 issued notices to the Union Agriculture Ministry and the governments of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala on the petition that also sought modifications in the agriculture policy to check suicides by farmers.
Maharashtra also complained that NABARD has shown its unwillingness to provide loans under the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund.
On crop loan too, it said that NABARD refinance at the rate of 2.5 per cent would be available only to the tune of the total crop loan requirement and the remaining finance had to be made available by the state agencies which would put them in huge loss.
“Thus, the State Government will have to bear this financial burden of about Rs 200 crore for implementing the decision of the Government of India for providing crop loan at the rate of 7 per cent. The Government of India needs to immediately take the decision of giving 100 per cent refinance at the rate of 2.5 per cent,” the state government said.
It said that 75 per cent of the suicides in the last five years took place in Amravati, Yavatmal, Akola, Buldhana and Wasim districts of Amarawati Division and Wardha District of Nagpur Division of the state. Yavatmal district alone accounted for 27 per cent of the total suicides, it added.
On the reasons behind farmers’ suicide, the affidavit said that it “is a complex problem and need not be understood in the light of indebtedness alone, which is only one of the multiple socio-economic and psychological factors”.
Quoting from a study by Mumbai-based Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, it said the main reasons behind farmers’ suicide were indebtedness, crop failure and low return, illness of family members, inability to arrange finance for marriage of daughter and lack of income earning opportunities from subsidiary occupations.
However, the state government asserted that it “is wholly committed to mitigate the problem of farmers’ suicides by comprehensive, scientific and realistic policy package but said impact on the ground certainly would take some time to show.”
Quoting the data released by the government, the petitioner had pointed out that in the last five years an alarming number of 8927 farmers committed suicide in the said four states-Karnataka (5910) Andhra Pradesh (1835), Maharashtra (981) and Kerala (201).
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Chidambaram neglects suicide belt,000…
Sweta Ramanujan-Dixit

Mumbai, February 28, 2007
He made it a point to mention that he had devoted a generous 15 to 20 minutes of his speech to agriculture. But in those 20 minutes, Finance Minister P Chidambaram steered clear of the ‘S’ word.

In all the talk about agrarian crisis and the government’s concern about the same, suicides of thousands of cotton farmers in Maharashtra found no specific mention in the two-hour speech.

Little wonder then, that people like Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti are ‘disturbed’ after the budget. The reason: no clear-cut measures announced to stem the spate of suicides in Vidarbha — Maharashtra’s cotton belt.

“The government spoke so much about the agrarian crisis in its economic survey but the budget does not address this,” Tiwari said. Although Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a Rs 3,750-crore relief package in July 2006, the spate of suicides continues with 79 suicides in February alone — 12 of these in the 48 hours preceding the budget.

Tiwari felt the budget should have considered the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers (NCF). “We have been demanding that farming be made profitable. Input and output costs should be regulated. Giving high-maintenance milch cows is like giving the farmers another reason to commit suicide,” Tiwari argued.

There seems to be no immediate relief in sight for distressed cotton farmers. Farm credit has been expanded which means more money available for borrowing but no reduction in interest rates. But the state government says it is grateful that at least more money is available.

“Having identified the problem in both human and statistical dimensions, the budget fails to provide a strategy for agricultural renewal,” NCF chairman MS Swaminathan wrote in an e-mail to this paper, reacting to the budget. “In the suicide-ridden districts of Vidharbha, we need an integrated package consisting of appropriate and affordable technology, services in terms of seeds, credit, insurance and extension advice. Above all, an assured and remunerative marketing facility.”

Swaminathan welcomed the increased outlay on irrigation and the expansion of farm credit. But he added that this was “not going to prevent farmers affected by economic penury from committing suicides”.

“Vidharbha needs rural godowns and warehouseing facilities which can ensure that farmers are able to get the best possible price and are not forced to resort to distress sales,” Swaminathan explained. “Unfortunately the budget is silent about farmer-centric marketing.”

The state government, though, is trying hard to hide its disappointment and focus on budgetary provisions it can make use of. “Expanding farm credit is an important step because it is crucial that loans are available to farmers,” Agriculture Minister Balasaheb Thorat told HT.

“We can make good use of the Mission for Pulses to increase their production. If it works, many farmers could get diverted towards pulses from cotton.”

The finance minister did outline some long-term solutions: an unimpressive Rs 100-crore for rain-fed area development programmes and Rs 12,400 crore towards water-related schemes.

Fertiliser companies will receive subsidies of over Rs 22,000 crore. Based on a study to be conducted, a pilot programme will be implemented for delivering these subsidies directly to the farmer, the budget stated. But in Swaminathan’s words: “The time for ‘pilots’ is gone and what we need is a movement like the one which triggered the green revolution in the sixties.”

Budget has nothing for farmers…

UPA’s friends and foes attack Budget

New Delhi, Feb. 28 (PTI): The Union Budget for 2007-08 today drew flak from ruling UPA’s friends and foes alike who dubbed it as anti-farmer, anti-common man and listless.

The Left attacked the Government for “ignoring” their suggestions.

Opposition BJP and Shiv Sena dubbed the budget as “anti-poor, anti-farmer and anti-common man” which showed that the Congress-led coalition did not have any growth-oriented vision.

CPI leader Gurudas Das Gupta said the budget was a “deplorable exercise” as it has failed to address the problem of farmers’ suicides or the plight of unorganised labour.

He said the budget had even reduced service tax for corporates instead of raising it for mobilising resources for welfare schemes for masses.

Speaking in similar vein, Das Gupta as also Suresh Prabhu (Shiv Sena) said Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s efforts would not help the “aam admi (common man)” and the budget has no measures to rein in inflation.

Dubbing the budget as “listless, unimaginative and timid”, Prabhu said the finance minister has lost a golden opportunity to jack up the growth rate to ten per cent.

“In an attempt to please all, the finance minister has displeased everyone,” he said.

BJP leader Satyanarayan Jatiya said the budget had not measures for ameliorating the plight of the poor. “It is disappointing as the common man has been left out,” he said.

NDA Convenor George Fernandes said there was nothing in the budget for the common man. “Everything has been done for the rich and the elite,” he said adding that the people would come out on the street in protest against the budget.

Mohan Singh (SP) termed the budget as a “directionless exercise” which has failed to address the burning problems facing the nation, including the agrarian crisis and the spiralling prices.

A Narendra (TRS) said the budget was anti-poor and added that it was unfortunate that nothing had been done for checking the hike in prices.

RJD leader Raghunath Jha and Suraj Bhan (LJP), however, described the budget as development oriented and in favour of the poor.

RPI leader Ramdas Athawale hailed certain measures for the scheduled castes and tribes but said they were far short of expectations.

BJP leaders V K Malhotra and Sushma Swaraj said there was nothing in the Budget for “‘aam aadmi’ (common man), women and senior citizens”.

“While food for dogs has been made cheaper, it will be costly now for ‘aam aadmi’,” they said.

The BJP leaders were of the view that whatever minimal concession were announced by the finance minister would be swallowed by the inflation.

The two senior BJP leaders also questioned the rationale behind exemption granted in the Budget to the corporate sector, adding no serious efforts were made to check price rise as also farmers’ problems.

Describing the Budget as “dead”, Swaraj said Chidambaram had only announced constitution of committees and wanted to know “what he had been doing throughout the year”.

CPI-M leader Mohammad Salim said though there has been more allocation for social sector, there was nothing much for the common man and labourers.

“We also expected that Government should come out with concrete proposals for the welfare of minorities in the wake of Justice (Retd) Sachar Committee Report. But we are disappointed,” he said.

On the agriculture sector, Salim said the Budget has only increased credit flow, which alone will not help address the problems faced by agriculture sector as also the farming community.

Samajwadi Party leader Amar Singh said the Budget clearly speaks that “‘Congress Ka Haath’ (Congress’s hand) is only with the industrialists” and not with the common man as they have been claiming.

“There is nothing in the Budget to check inflation, price rise. There is nothing for women and the comman man,” he said adding that this Budget would lead to Congress’ “destruction”.

“This government has not learnt any lesson from Uttarakhand and Punjab…. ‘Aam Aadmi’ has nothing to do with sensex and GDP. Farmers are still committing suicides,” Singh said.

Replying to a question, the SP leader said Congress chief Sonia Gandhi “is treating Uttar Pradesh as ‘Apna Dushman Pradesh (her enemy state)”.

“Neither was there anything in the Rail Budget for Uttar Pradesh nor in the General Budget presented today,” he said.

Suspended Samajwadi Party MP and Janmorcha chief Raj Babbar said the budget was disappointing as “there was nothing for over 40 crore farmers in it”.

He said while subsidy has been provided to fertilizer manufacturers, there is no relief for its users (farmers).

JD(U) Digvijay Singh said the Budget was “directionless” and had nothing for the Industry or the Agriculture sector.

He also questioned the logic behind the education cess in view of the growing inflation and making states responsible for irrigation.

“This is a directionless budget before the election year’s Budget. We all know what will be in the next Budget”, he said.

12 more farmers commit suicide in Vidarbha,000…
Pradip Kumar Maitra

Nagpur, February 27, 2006
There is no sign of suicides abating in the killing field of Vidarbha! Twelve more farmers have ended their lives in last 48 hours, according to reports reaching in Nagpur on Tuesday.

With the deaths of 12 more farmers the toll has now reach 79 this month while the figure touched 149 this year. Three suicides were reported in Amravati, two each from Yavatmal, Akola and Washim while one each in Buldhana and Wardha district.

They were identified as: Prabhakar Savai of Kalamla village, Suresh Banapure, Nandgaonpeth, Pawan Sadhashiv of Khushta village (all in Amravati), Ganesh Tike of Masani, Shriram Jelas of Pohradevi (both in Washim), Sakharam Choudhary, Jarur, Rahul Chinche (both in Yavatmal), Someshwar Sarkate of Wani-Rambhapur, Santosh Dhandale, Paras (both in Akola) Parmeshwar Bongale of Jamulghat (Chandrapur), Mohan Giri, Manoda (Buldhana) and Ramkrishna Gainar of Rohna village in Wardha district.

The Vilasrao Deshmukh government which has been claiming for pumping huge money to stem the on-going crisis, miserably failed to do so even after `implementations’ of over Rs 5,000-crore relief packages of PM and state government. The much hyped, Art of Living programme in several villages in the region even could not give much dividends.

Kishore Tiwari of Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti alleged that most of the farmers were the victims of ongoing loan recovery drive of the banks. “The prime minister’s package made it clear that the farmers would get at least one-year moratorium on recovery of loans.

However, all banks recovered their loans, virtually forcefully from farmers with the help of state-run cotton marketing cooperative federation during selling their raw cotton. Moreover, banks have also launched their loan recovery drive,” he further pointed out and said that the agricultural crisis that is forcing them to take such desperate step of coming suicide.

Talking to Hindustan Times, SK Goel, the divisional commissioner of Amravati, who has been supervising the relief packages, denied that there was any forcible loan recovery from banks. However, he admitted that the farmers of Vidarbha were facing hardship because of high cost of agro-inputs and meagre price of their produces.

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Protest march against sucides by farmers, SEZs

Madhur Tankha

Activists demand creation of a Zero Hunger Act

NEW DELHI: Members of Youth for Justice, Kisan Log Abhiyan and MCKS Food
for Hungry Foundation jointly staged a march at Jantar Mantar here on
Sunday protesting against the continuing farmers’ suicides.

Wearing masks, the protesters holding banners like “The Constitution
Guarantees Me Right to Life Yet Death Haunts Me All The Time” shouted
slogans against the United Progressive Alliance Government’s policies
that were leading to lack of livelihood for farmers across the country.
They called for a Zero Hunger Act.

Claiming that the Haryana Government had sent notices to farmers of
Rewari to hand over their agricultural land for Special Economic Zones,
Kisan Lok Abhiyan State president Dinesh Joshi said: “We don’t mind
giving barren land, but parting with fertile agricultural land for big
multi-national companies is quite unreasonable.”

Stating that he had received a notice from the State Government to
vacate his agricultural land, Lal Singh Yadav of Haryana said he grows
“bajra” and mustard in his 10 acre agricultural land but will now be
left with no option but to hand over his ancestral land to the
administration. “At least farmers should have the right to decide
whether they want to sell their land nor not. And the price paid to us
by the administration is pittance.”

Sharing their concerns, a number of Delhi University students under the
Youth for Justice banner marched with the farmers. Stating that they
interacted with farmers of Vidarbha, Youth for Justice representative
Kapil Mishra said the youth and the farmers had come on a common
platform to awaken the Government so that it comes out with a
farmer-friendly budget.

Demanding separate packages and waving off loans for farmers in all the
affected districts, Mr. Mishra said organic farming should be encouraged.

“Since 1997, over 25,000 farmers across the country have taken their own
lives. The worst affected places are Warangal, Amravati, Vidarbha,
Karimnagar and Nizamabad. Even though we are boasting of 8 per cent
economic growth, the grim fact is that our farmers are committing
suicide. This means our policy-makers need to change their approach
towards running the economy,” said Mr. Mishra.

Besides travelling to Vidarbha next week in March for a first hand
experience with the situation prevailing in the rural areas, Youth for
Justice members will visit Capital’s Connaught Place and Ansal Plaza
every Sunday to distribute pamphlets to make Generation X aware of the
farmers’ plight.

NGOs have not changed the Rural India's face…

What hopes NGO would make a change this time? President Abdul Kalam inaugurated a three-day national summit on rural NGOs in Delhi in April, 2006. He spoke with much candour and conviction. What he said is that a large number of NGOs that get lots of foreign funds don’t spend them properly. The funds don’t reach the target groups in the grass-roots. Yes, that is what the President conveyed.

What we all know for sure is the fact that all NGOs are no angels. There are rogues and scoundrels as well! Yes, there are many so-called NGO activities that are positively harmful. From being anti-national activities to religious propaganda and also more subtly lots of brain-washing activities in the names of all sorts of new-fangled ideologies and advocacy programmes.

NGOs in micro-finance is an exception. As they are closely monitored by competent agencies. Even today, in the names of so many mispropaganda farmers can’t own land in a clear, legally entitled manner. So much red-tape binds the farmers. In debt and separate situations! So too in getting market access. Why not NGOs engage themselves in propagating contract farming, getting latest market information available at farmers door steps? Our farm research scientists must be made to work along with farmers, students and teachers for a mandatory minimum months in their careers. So on and on..

The summit was organised by the Capart, the apex body of NGOs functioning under the rural development minister Dr.Raghuvansh Prasad Singh. Singh is a senior minister from Bihar and he must be knowing fully well what ails the NGOs, at least some of the big and hard-working ones. Capart has a new Director-General and he too should be knowing what went wrong with Capart under the previous regime.

Given the new mission articulated by the DG, after his travels and interaction with NGOs, it is now royal development, income generating activities in rural areas through SHGs and, rural infrastructure, market access under the WTO regime, technology for rural India and the deployment of IT, empowerment of women etc. Quite a mouthful!

There is a news item about the Central Government banning some 265 NGOs that were receiving central funds and failed to complete projects allocated to them. In fact, 265 NGOs were blacklisted, of which 19 are in Karnataka. The list of NGOs blacklisted for Karnataka is also published in the dailies.

Now, NGOs are wonderful agencies. They have a critical role to play. A society that has no NGOs would be hell! Yes, we need non-government agencies of all types to advance peoples, various concerns, solve various problems of people. Unfortunately, still India is a bureaucratic country, the role of bureaucrats, petty to high sounding pretentious officials is still a bugbear!

The funds received from foreign sources by the NGOs run from Rs. 1865 crores in 1993-94 to now Rs.5047 crores in 2002-23. The highest concentration of NGOs is in Delhi, Tamil Nadu and A.P. Delhi got Rs.881 crores, TN Rs.775 crores etc. The leading donors are Ford Foundation and now may be Bill Gates foundation.

More interesting is the fact the major expenditure item is on establishment! Rs.674 crores, followed by spending on rural development. The largest number of people employed in NGOs work, next only to government jobs. In Government 20 million. In NGOs 19.4 million! NGOs and vested interests! Yes, the funding of the NGOs is much a sensitive issue and there is a feeling and there is much truth that much of the funds, mostly foreign funds are unaccountable! The NGOs are neither under the control of the Company Law or under the Auditor General.

When it comes to NGOs in agriculture and rural development, there are some controversial issues. Take agriculture. In the past 60 years we have made progress in agriculture. But at the same time we witness unprecedented farmers suicides. What are the causes? In our view, we have over-played sustainable farming etc. We haven’t given farmers freedoms to take to market-driven, commercially viable farming projects.

V.Isvarmurti :: Feb.28.2007 :: Rural India ::

Budget must address 'aam-aadmi' issues of inflation, livelihood…

Gargi Parsai

Focus likely on farm productivity, irrigation potential and rural employment

NEW DELHI: The high economic growth rate in the current fiscal year is marred by what experts now define as the disparate growth of `India’ against `Bharat.’ Farmers’ suicides, inflation, special economic zones (SEZs) on farm land, `unviability’ of small farm holdings, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the retail sector and growing unemployment occupied the centre-stage of national concerns for the better part of 2006. The budget 2007-08, will, therefore, have to address the `aam aadmi’ issues of inflation, livelihood and survival, particularly in the rural and agriculture sector.

The expansion of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme (NREGP), issue of farmers’ indebtedness, investment for raising farm productivity and irrigation potential, strengthening rural infrastructure, the Public Distribution System, enhancing the area under pulses and oilseeds and steps to tackle high prices of essential commodities will have to be at the centre of Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s budget. Education and health sectors also urgently need infusion of finances.

Bharat Nirman and the NREGP shall continue to be the flagship programmes. The number of districts covered under the NREGP is expected to be raised to 330 with an outlay of Rs. 12,000 crore, up from Rs. 11,300 crore in 2006-07. The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna shall also get a fillip with additional funds for rural roads connectivity. Other Bharat Nirman programmes including the Indira Awas Yojna and drinking water will also get higher budgetary allocation to meet targets.

Time and again the Government, more particularly Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has emphasised that unless the agriculture sector achieved a growth rate of four per cent, the overall economic growth of 8.1 per cent in 2006 will not sustain.

Indeed, quickly achieving four per cent growth rate — even by ad hoc measures — has become the benchmark for the mandarins of the Agriculture Ministry.

However, even after setting up the National Fisheries Board, the National Rainfed Authority, the Bamboo Mission and the National Horticulture Mission, the growth rate of agriculture and allied sectors (including high growth fisheries, animal husbandry and horticulture) remained at 2.3 per cent in 2006-07. The farm sector’s capital formation in GDP was 1.7 per cent in 2004-05, requiring urgent and sustained attention.

Access to credit

With farmers’ suicides symptomatic of the crises in the agriculture sector, credit remains the core issue. Not only does the demand for one-time waiver of farm loans has no takers, but the Government is yet to even address the issue of more than 60 per cent farmers not having access to credit.

The report of the Radhakrishnan Committee, which is looking into the indebtedness of farmers, is awaited. The M.S. Swaminathan National Commission of Farmers Report, which called for a National Policy on Farmers, has also been consigned to a Committee set up by the Planning Commission.

There are no signs either of a Comprehensive Crop Insurance Scheme for farmers to cover risk to crop and livestock.

On the other hand, it is expected that the Finance Minister will almost certainly announce incentives for the creation of a sugar buffer stock with industry, in view of the high production and low international sugar prices, discouraging exports. Pulses and oilseeds are also likely to get attention — the former for quality research inputs and the latter for revision in duty to check domestic prices.

The food and agro-processing industry may get tax concessions for setting up cold chains, abattoirs and food processing parks with linkages with terminal markets. This will also help Wal-Mart, Bharti, Reliance and other corporates entering the food sector.

It is anybody’s guess whether the Government will give in to the demand for excluding wheat, rice and sugar out of the forward market trade to control prices and counter the charge that the United Progressive Alliance Government favours corporate farming and multi-national company trade.

Farm research

In the last two years, the Government has invested in basic and strategic farm research and will continue to do so.

However, there is widespread criticism that farm research is not addressing the need-based issues of stagnation in pulses and oilseeds output. There is also need to invest in research on developing crop varieties resistant to floods and climate change. However, Knowledge Centres may get requisite funding.

The decision on SEZs has been put on hold, but only temporarily.

Apart from this, farmers/workers also face the Planning Commission recommended strategy to shift 10 million agriculture workers to the non-agriculture sector. The proposed National Rehabilitation Policy has done away with the land-for-land component, saying, “wherever possible.”

And, with no jobs (as against mandays) being created to cater for such a huge population of uneducated or semi-literate farm people, the dispossessed rural population faces a crisis of existence.

Farmers and the rural poor, therefore, are seeking in this budget an all-inclusive action plan demonstrating the Government’s concern for their well-being and livelihood.

NHRC issues notice to centre on land acquisition act…

New Delhi, Feb. 26 (PTI): The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued notice to the Centre on a petition seeking amendment in the “out-dated” Land Acquisition Act 1894, which it alleged was being used “arbitrarily” against farmers to grab their land.

The petitioner P Pullarao, an economist from Andhra Pradesh, moved the Commission alleging that in the past three years many acres of land has been acquired under the Act, displacing over 10 million farmers across the country in the name of development.

“No explaination is being given by the state governments or officials. The land is taken away using the Act. Farmers are thrown away from their villages without ensuring them any proper rehabilitation,” he said.

Pointing out “flaws” in the current land acquisition procedure, he said, “the District Collector issues a notification of land acquisition. It is then followed by revenue officials giving notice of vacation from the property.”

While drawing the attention of the Commission to the various provisions under Special Economic Zones (SEZs) which does not allow any public hearing on the issue of land acquisitions, Pullarao said it amounts to human rights violation.

Terming the Section 3 (2) of Chapter II titled “Establishment of SEZ” as a “bully” act on the part of the government, Pullarao has sought intervention of the NHRC in the matter.

The section states that “any person who intends to set up a SEZ may after identifying the area make a proposal to the state government concerned for the purpose of setting up the SEZ”.

In Andhra Pradesh, alleged Pullarao, the officials had been grabbing the land by forcing the farmers to voluntarily accept the compensation whatever decided by them.

Seeking suspension of the land acquisition Act, the petitioner has urged the NHRC to direct the Ministry of Rural Development to amend it in a “sensitive manner.”

Taking cognisance of the complaint, the Commision has also issued notice to Andhra Pradesh to submit the factual report in the matter within six weeks.

1,400 suicides in one region alone last year…

P. Sainath

Ramesshwar Kuchankar decided that the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee was where he would take his own life. He did, on November 28 in Panderkauda, Yavatmal. Ten days later, Dinesh Ghughul was shot dead by the police at the Wani cotton market in the same district. And Pundalik Girsawle walked into the premises of the agricultural officer, Wani, and killed himself there 12 days after Ghughul’s death.

Kuchankar was 27, Ghughul was 38, and Girsawle 45. Different people in several ways. Yet they represent the same new – and growing – trend in Vidharbha’s farm deaths [in the state of Maharashtra, east of Mumbai]. More and more such farmers are directly blaming state policy – not drought or floods – for their misery. Some confront the Government in tragic ways. Where Girsawle and Kuchankar chose to commit suicide was in itself a statement. And for some months now, the suicide notes of farmers are talking directly to Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and even to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

“Don’t blame my family for my action,” says the suicide note of young Kuchankar. “I will never forgive anybody who does.” He perhaps foresaw a standard government explanation of farm suicides: “family dispute.” And in one poignant sentence, addresses the 19-year-old girl he had wed just six months ago: “Pratibha, I am sorry. Please get remarried.” He blames the procurement price for cotton as the source of farmers’ distress. “We are fed up with the delay in procurement and crashing prices. This will further aggravate the situation.”

His message to Mr. Deshmukh: “Mr. Chief Minister give us the price.” And to Home Minister R.R. Patil “if you do not give us a price of Rs.3,000 per quintal, suicides will surge.” Kuchankar wrote: “The cotton price has fallen to Rs.1,990 a quintal. We cannot manage with that. Which is why I am giving up my life.” The suicide note is a bunch of anguished scribbles across a sheet of paper.

Pundalik Girsawle chose the Agricultural Office in Wani to make his point. He was seeking Rs.4,800 to buy a bullock cart under the Prime Minister’s relief package. He had seen four years of crop failure. His home being close to the Tejapur forest, wild animals devastated his fields. Household health expenses were rising. He sought the agricultural officer’s aid.

“He went to that office 15 times,” his mother Parvatabai told us in Tejapur. “Look, he even sold one of the doors he had bought for this house. Why? To pay for his frequent bus tickets to Wani. But someone there demanded a bribe. When he threatened to commit suicide, they told him `you do what you like.’ He was shattered.” He chose that very office as the site of his suicide.

Neighbours allege that the cheque for some Rs.4,400 [approx 45 rupees to US$1] found on his body “was planted there to cover up the racket his suicide exposed.” His five-member family now depends on the Rs.30 his widow Sunita brings in on those days she can find work. “What happens to Pundalik’s three daughters,” asks Parvatabai. They are aged 14, 12, and 10. Meanwhile, officials declared it a “non-distress” suicide. A view echoed in sections of the media that had never been to the village or met his family.

“There is no way the government can record these two as farm suicides,” says Kishore Tiwari of the Vidharbha Jan Andolan Samiti. “Acceptance would highlight their words and actions – which directly implicate and expose the government and its policies. Hence they have to be called fake and the families denied compensation.”

In August the suicide note of cotton grower Ramakrishna Lonkar in Wardha district had made news. “After the Prime Minister’s visit and announcements of a fresh crop loan, I thought I could live again,” Lonkar wrote. But, he concluded, he found nothing had changed on the credit front. Or on other policies. The same month saw Sahebrao Adhao of Amravati district paint a picture of usury, debt, and land-grab in his suicide note. Yet again, a victim had captured the failure of both system and policy in writing.

“This trend now causes huge trouble for the government,” says Mr. Tiwari. “All the cover-ups and paid-for bogus `studies’ finding other causes for the deaths are destroyed when the farmer explains in detail why he is killing himself. And points a finger at the government’s wrong policies.”

Dinesh Ghughul’s case is more complex. “He was not part of the protests that burst out in Wani that day,” says his widow Savita at their home in Mendoli village. Huge delays in cotton procurement angered farmers. Just 56 procurement centres were at work where there had been 300 three years ago. In the chaos that followed, Ghughul fell to police bullets. “He went to Wani to sell his cotton. Why kill him for that,” she asked Mr. R.R. Patil. “He told me, `what has happened has happened. But now let us help you and your family.'” The huge public anger meant this family got some compensation for the loss of its bread-winner. But it is in bad shape. And it has only an APL card. The family feels the protest that led to his death was a statement. That it captured his own plight even if he was not part of it.

Farmers’ suicides in Vidharbha go on relentlessly. The first three weeks of January saw over 50. The State Government’s own website has conceded over 1,400 suicides in just six districts of the region during 2006. However, the figures are kept down by increasing, each month, the “rate of rejection” of suicides. That is, the government argues that most of these suicides are not due to agrarian distress but “other causes.” Such as family disputes, drunkenness, and the like.

Rejecting most of the deaths as “not eligible” for compensation helps “slow down” the number of suicides. On paper at least. The VJAS points out that the “rejection rate” has risen every month since the Prime Minister’s visit last June. “And yet,” says Mr. Tiwari, “the suicides go up. Just look at their own total figure.” The government’s website concedes — on the basis of the biggest ever survey done in Vidharbha which covered close to ten million farmers — that over three qarters of these are in distress in these six districts. And that nearly two million are in “maximum distress.” That distress is showing. And the farmers taking their own lives are making no secret of who they blame for it.

P. Sainath is the rural affairs editor of The Hindu (where this piece initially ran) and the author of Everybody Loves a Good Drought. He can be reached at:

[Hindu] A question of Indian pride…

India’s democratic experiment, with all its flaws, and the often-dismissed version of Nehru-Gandhian secularism are things Indians can be proud of. But these are seldom the things that Indians are asked to be proud of.
Who cares about farmer suicides now? Who cares about the children of immigrant workers? India is busy following the West, even when accusing it of racism, following It faithfully into the fast lane of neo-liberalist progress.
THE 60th year of independent India started with a fog that grounded most domestic flights and closed schools in North India throughout the first two weeks of January.
In Noida, the booming chaotic suburb of Delhi, which is actually in the adjoining state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), 2007 was also presaged by one of the biggest crime sensations of modern India. It was reported that a millionaire industrialist, who used to sip whiskey sprinkled with gold flakes, and his servant had killed at least 20 — and probably more — children over the past few years. Their modus operandi appeared to be simple: entice a child into the `farmhouse’, used basically as a holiday `stud’ resort by the millionaire, rape and murder him or her, cut him into pieces and dump the bag in the drain that ran behind the house.
Various theories
In spite of repeated complaints against the house and about the stink emanating from the drain, the local UP police had ignored the matter. It appeared that, apart from being rich, the culprit and his accomplice had concentrated on children of immigrant workers, not interfering with the children of local villagers or the many Delhi prostitutes who frequented the place. When the matter finally came to light, it was because the servant — behind his master’s back — murdered a Delhi prostitute, whose father managed to be heard more than immigrant labourers from Bihar or Bangladesh tend to be. Since then, India has been discussing various theories: on the one side, that of cannibalism and sex murders, and on the other that of organ trade. Both have their supporters in the argumentative middle classes. As for the debates in those vast Delhi slums of immigrant and landless labourers from the agricultural hinterlands, well…
One news item that almost slipped past the argumentative middle classes in the first weeks of January was the promise by a state Chief Minister that he will be accessible to farmers overburdened with loans, advanced by banks rather than the traditional moneylender. He urged the farmers not to commit suicide.
Between 25,000 and 100,000 Indian farmers commit suicide every year, unable to cope with the loans and unforgiving conditions of a booming, liberalised economy. Unlike immigrant workers whose children were killed and cannibalised in Noida, most of these farmers do not come from places like Bihar. Places like Bihar are too backward to progress into modern versions of genocide. The farmers who commit suicide belong to the more progressive and affluent states of India.
Much to be proud of
India is booming. Doubt it not. Indians are also constantly told to be proud. Say with pride you are a Hindu, was one of the two slogans that launched the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on its path to electoral success in the late 1980s. Today, we Indians are urged to be proud in films, advertisements, editorials. We are urged to be proud of our nuclear capacity and the nuclear deal signed between India and George Bush (which critics like Chomsky insist is a well-aimed American nail in the coffin of an internationalised nuclear non-proliferation treaty). We are urged to be proud of our professional classes and booming national economy, which has been leapfrogging at a rate close to ten percent. We are even urged to be proud of our cricket team, which regularly flatters to deceive.
To be honest, there is much to be proud about in India. While the booming economy is only a mixed blessing, India is a working example of a democracy that has survived adverse conditions. In many ways, India’s democratic experiment, with all its flaws, offers a better model to countries in Asia, Africa and South America than the much-touted and sanitised democracies of privileged North Europe. Again, India’s distinctive and often-dismissed version of Nehru-Gandhian secularism might be a better model to follow today than the secularism of Europe, which is a supposedly atheistic superstructure reared on a solid but purposefully obscured Protestant base. These are things Indians can be proud of. But these are seldom things that Indians are asked to be proud of.
India poised
The Times of India launched January 1, 2007, with an ad-lib-type boxed item covering most of the front page. “India poised,” it was called. It started with the reasonable observation that “there are two Indias in this country”. Then it fitted these two Indias within an implicit neo-liberalist hierarchy: “One India is straining at the leash… The other India is the leash. One India wants. The other India hopes. And one India… is looking down at the bottom of the ravine and hesitating. The other India is looking up at the sky and saying, it’s time to fly.”
Sonorous words, these. And empty ones. For, if interpreted with generosity, they do not really account for the farmers who commit suicides or the slum children who are cannibalised for sex or organs. And if interpreted with scepticism, they are an attempt to condone — some might even claim endorse — the genocide that lies hidden in the heart of rampant neo-liberalism. For if that other India — the India of failed farmers and slum workers — is the leash, then perhaps the only way out is to look the other way while that leash is cut to pieces.
January 2007 was significant and revealing because this year will mark the 60th anniversary of India’s independence. But already, as the first month of India’s 60th year lumbered to a close, attention has shifted from the cannibalising or organ-trading millionaire of Noida. Instead, the media — and not just in India — were agog with discussions of a post-modern reality show. A vacant white ex-housewife vilified a vacant Indian starlet appearing on “Big Brother”, perhaps in racist terms. Who cares about farmer suicides now? Who cares about the children of immigrant workers? India is busy following the West, even when accusing it of racism, following it faithfully into the fast lane of neo-liberalist progress. The luxury cars on this highway — of which at least 10 new models will be launched in India this year — do not pause for anyone down the rugged cline that leads to the ravaged fields of human endeavour. And why should they?
After all, what is happening in India is only one version of what has happened in the world: the history of progress and modernity in Europe or US or Australia is a testament to the `inevitability’ of silent genocides, that of the displaced, minorities, Jews, gypsies, aborigines etc. Perhaps other kinds of progress and modernity are also possible. Perhaps Indian democracy and secularism, to take only two examples, are weak pointers in that untraced direction. But then, who stops to talk about democracy or secularism on the highways of global neo-liberalism? Who dares take pride in these brave but flawed experiments in India today?
The writer is Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Aarhus, Denmark.

Posted by Mohit Garg at Saturday, February 24, 2007