Cooperative farm loans worth Rs. 4,836 crore to be waived

Special Correspondent…

My Government will keep the promise: Kumaraswamy

`Priority to develop tier-II and tier-III cities’
Government confident of service sector boom continuing

PROMISES REPEATED: Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy getting ready to address the Janata Dal (Secular) National Executive meeting held at Palace Grounds in Bangalore on Monday. — Photo: K. Gopinathan

BANGALORE: Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy on Monday said his Government was committed to its promise of waiving farm loans and said the total outstanding of farmers to the cooperative banks in the State, as on December 31 last, was Rs. 4,836.98 crore.

In his address at the national council meeting of the Janata Dal (Secular) here, Mr. Kumaraswamy said that of the outstanding from farmers, the principal amount was Rs. 4,198.45 crore and the interest component Rs. 638.53 crore.

On an average, the per capita debt of farmers vis-à-vis farm loan was Rs. 24,663. The number of cooperative loan accounts in the State was 17,78,753.

He lashed out at the critics of the farm loan waiver proposal and said it was one of the important steps in checking suicide by farmers.

“If a country that wants to become an economic powerhouse cannot end the misery and suicides of its farmers by allocating a few thousand crores of rupees while it gears up for a challenge to invest nearly Rs. 50 lakh crore in improving infrastructure, then something is fundamentally wrong.”

Capital inflow

Mr. Kumaraswamy said the State had received unprecedented industrial investments over the past year and this was expected to increase in the coming financial year. The Government planned to develop tier-two and the tier-three cities and towns in the State to prevent the migration of people and to ensure that the rural people found employment closer home.

The formation of Greater Bangalore had been designed to upgrade the infrastructure in the State’s Capital.

This year, project proposals involving an investment of Rs. 80,000 crore and having an employment potential of 15 lakh jobs, had been cleared by the State Government.

Service sector boom

The State Government was confident that over the 11th Plan period and beyond, manufacturing and service sectors would continue to grow at a healthy pace in the State.

“More than 200 IT and 35 BT companies have been established in the last year indicating that Karnataka continues to be the preferred destination of the knowledge industry”.

Not a bed of roses

The Chief Minister admitted that heading a coalition Government was not a bed of roses.

By conducting “Janata darshans” over the weekend and by staying in the houses of villagers whenever possible, “I have done my best to show that the Government is for the benefit of the common man.”

Party’s support

The Chief Minister thanked the national executive of the Janata Dal (Secular) on revoking the suspension served on him and 39 other MLAs for associating with the BJP in forming a coalition Government in the State.

But for the revocation of the suspension of MLAs at the last national executive meeting held on December 25 last, the Chief Minister and the other Ministers here could not have attended the two-day meet.

Widows of the cotton world

Jaideep Hardikar

Sunday, January 28, 2007  22:26 IST

A common tragedy binds together the families of cotton farmers’ who have lost their lives.

YAVATMAL: It’s a tale of three widows bound by a common thread of cotton; and policies of the state that their husbands vocally blamed for their plight before their death.

Savita Ghugul’s husband Dinesh fell to the police bullets in December 2006 at Wani cotton procurement centre, when a mob of cotton growers erupted in anger over delay in procurement of cotton. Dinesh, 35, had left his home in Mendholi village the morning he died; his body returned the next day amid police protection.

Sunita Girsawale’s man Pundalik chose to end himself in the Tehsil Agriculture Office when he ran out of patience and money. He was seeking help to buy a bullock under the Prime Minister’s much-trumpeted relief package, but someone in the tehsil office demanded bribe. A cheque of Rs4500 was found on his person after his death. People of his Tejapur village allege it was planted after his death.

And 20-year-old Pratibha Kuchankar’s husband Rameshwar consumed pesticide in Pandharkawda cotton procurement centre, ending his days of desperation. A stoic silence grips Pratibha’s maternal home in Veerkund village, where she has moved in after Rameshwar’s death on November 28, last year. It was only six months since their marriage, but the young farmer felt his condition would not improve. Still in shock, Pratibha lets her silence speak for her.

Savita, Sunita and Pratibha are women from different contexts, background and age groups, yet engulfed by a tragedy that emanates from a single source: Wrong policies. Well over a thousand farmers committed suicide in 2006 and close to 70 in January 2007 so far in Vidarbha’s six cotton districts. Notwithstanding the government’s rejection of these suicides as fallout of an agrarian emergency, the constituency of widows is growing at a frightening speed in the cotton country.

On the other hand, the farmers taking their own lives are increasingly becoming more vocal in their criticism of the government’s policies, and the suicide notes are being directed now straight to the Chief Minister or his deputy.

As Rameshwar Kuchankar, 27, said in his dying note before consuming poison in the market yard, “Mr CM, give us the price. Mr R R Patil, if you don’t give us Rs 3000 a
quintal, this issue (of farmers’ suicide) will aggravate.”

Rameshwar knew he was in losses after the cotton prices crashed to Rs1700-1900 this year from over Rs2200 a quintal. Then, in one poignant stroke, he wrote a line for his wife on one corner of that note. “Pratibha, I am sorry, please forgive me and get remarried.” In the end, he mentions: “No one in my family should be blamed for my death; if some one does that I won’t forgive him.”

Pundalik, on the other hand, had had four years of crop failure. “He went at least 15 times to get the cheque from the agriculture office to buy a bullock, but some one there demanded bribe,” says his mother Parvatabai. “He had purchased two doors for this hut, but had to sell one to pay for his visits to Wani,” she informs. Sunita, his widow, has since taken to working as a farm labourer to earn a living and her three daughters – aged 14, 12 and 10 – look after the household chores.

Apparently, it was a slight provocation by some one in the agriculture office that proved the last straw for Pundalik. He had threatened them that he would end his life if they did not release his cheque; the officer said do as you like, and  a desperate Pundalik consumed poison, a villager says.

In both Pundalik and Rameshwar’s cases, the government has declined the Rsone-lakh compensation, saying these were ‘non-genuine’ suicides, meaning the two farmers’ death was genuine, “but was not due to any agricultural crisis”. In Dinesh’s case, luckily, there’s no question of applying any parameter. He fell to a bullet that pierced his stomach. In one way though, Dinesh was a victim of the government’s neglect towards procurement of cotton. Had the centres worked round the clock to buy farmers’ yield the unprecedented protests may not have erupted in the first place, and Dinesh would have lived.

These three families lost their bread-winners in a span of one month. The same month, over a hundred farming households in Vidarbha also lost their head men, all choosing to take their lives. “The three farmers represent different hues of misery thanks to the government. One lost his life for no reason in police firing; the other was denied the relief that the PM himself declared in Nagpur; the third one felt, like all farmers of this region feel, he was denied a decent life,” says Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. “All of them had good family life and none was an alcoholic; it was the state’s policy and bureaucratic sham that took their lives,” he charges.

The questions staring Savita and her children are no less different than those facing Pratibha or Sunita and her three daughters. Alas, no less easy too.

Two views

Prabhat Patnaik

THE fact that there is a crisis in India’s countryside, notwithstanding all the talk about “India shining”, can scarcely be denied any more. The prime minister’s visit to Vidarbha marked an official recognition of it. There are nonetheless two diametrically opposite views on the nature of the crisis and on the steps needed for its resolution. One view, which represents the official position of the central government, sees it exclusively as an agricultural crisis, i.e. the crisis of a sector, which is afflicted by output stagnation, low productivity, and low levels of investment. The other, which represents the Left perspective, sees it as an agrarian crisis, i.e. the crisis of certain agrarian classes, arising out of the relationship of these classes to other classes, in the context of the neo-liberal policies. One view stresses the materiality of the agricultural sector while examining the crisis; the other stresses social relations, the relations between classes unfolding in the era of globalisation.

Karl Marx had always been insistent that the essence of scientific political economy was the analysis of social relations and the changes in them. The sort of analysis which focused exclusively on the materiality of objects, on things rather than relations, or on “use values” (and correspondingly on concrete labour) as opposed to exchange values (and correspondingly on abstract labour), was castigated by him as “vulgar economy”. The official approach to the understanding of the crisis in India’s countryside therefore is mired in “vulgar economy”.


Let us turn now to an examination of the differences between the two approaches. The official or “vulgar economy” approach argues as follows. The reason why there is an “agricultural crisis” (which, as mentioned, is the way they perceive the crisis) is because there is insufficient investment in agriculture, insufficient “modernisation” of the sector, and a level of “efficiency” (and productivity) that is too low for international competitiveness. It follows from this analysis that if investment is pumped into this sector, if “modernisation” is carried out raising this sector’s “efficiency”, then it can grow more rapidly and also become competitive internationally. Since the most obvious way of attracting more investment into this sector, and bringing about “modernisation” of it, is by opening it up for corporate capital, both domestic corporates and MNCs, which can introduce “contract farming”, which can themselves take over land for estate farming, and which can alter the production structure to respond to the pattern of global demand, we should encourage such “corporate agriculture”. For this purpose, marketing outlets such as what the Ambanis have been planning should be permitted; tenancy legislation should be amended to remove all barriers to leasing out land by those who wish to do so (which, like in the colonial period, would enable corporate capital or its agents to acquire land as tenants); and ceiling legislation should be done away with. The focus in short is either on corporate agriculture as such, or on corporate-driven agriculture through institutions like “rural business hubs” etc.

As against this approach, the Left approach sees the crisis in agriculture as a crisis afflicting the peasantry, which in turn is a part of the crisis of petty production. Capitalism tends to destroy petty production. The survival of petty production in the era of capitalism is made possible by deliberate intervention by the State through price support, “reservation” against competition, subsidies, import tariffs, and State procurement of the marketed surplus of such producers. In the case of the peasantry, the entire set of measures that we had in India, ranging from priority sector lending by banks, to differential interest rates on bank loans, to procurement at CACP-determined prices, to quantitative restrictions on imports, to subsidized inputs, to State-provided extension services, to controls on land-use and checks on subletting of land, was meant to provide such support. This was done in the interests of strengthening the base of capitalist development, of the sort that was being attempted in India in the post-Independence period, by providing it with crucial petty bourgeois support.

Of course, such support to petty production did not rule out the development of capitalism in agriculture. On the contrary, there was a strong tendency towards the development of both landlord capitalism (“from above”) as well as peasant capitalism (“from below”) under this dispensation, on which much has been written. But that trajectory of capitalist development is fundamentally different from the development of “corporate capitalism” in agriculture, through large-scale expropriation-cum-subjugation of the peasantry, which is being promoted now. This latter entails the withdrawal of support by the State to petty producers which is the hallmark of neo-liberal economic policies. Such withdrawal is clearly discernible in the period since the end of the eighties, and the peasantry is faced with the current acute crisis because of this. 


The crisis is all the more acute because the pursuit of neo-liberal policies all around the world has resulted in a slowing down of the growth of world capitalism, which has entailed a turning of the terms of trade secularly, through fluctuations, against the primary producers; the peasantry in our country, being exposed to the world market precisely at this juncture, has been hit particularly hard. The crisis therefore is an outcome of neo-liberal policies pursued in the interests of international corporate capital in general, and international finance capital in particular. And if the misery of the peasants is the result of exposure to the policies that favour corporate capital, then the induction of corporate agriculture can only compound that misery further. Far from being the panacea for agrarian crisis, corporate agriculture can only exacerbate that crisis.

The vacuity of the official position that denies any link between neo-liberal policies and the agrarian crisis is demonstrated by the sequel to the prime minister’s Vidarbha visit. Acknowledging the role of indebtedness in farmers’ suicides, he made certain announcements providing relief in interest payments on accumulated institutional debt. And emphasizing that the distress of the farmers had to do with the lack of “development” of the agricultural sector, he made certain announcements about schemes for increasing output. But what he did not do, despite repeated pleas from the peasant leaders assembled to meet him, was to provide for an increase in the import duty on raw cotton which would have arrested the price fall experienced by the peasantry and hence restored, to a degree, the viability of cotton growing, which alone is the pre-condition for any investment on the part of the peasantry. He did not raise import duty because that would have gone against the entire neo-liberal policy of eliminating trade restrictions. As a result of his silence on the basic price issue, even after his visit, hundreds of suicides have continued to occur in the Vidarbha region.

All talk of “investment”, “productivity increases”, “modernisation”, and “competitiveness”, if it refers to the context of peasant agriculture, becomes totally meaningless in the absence of price and other kinds of State support, since the peasantry will not undertake any investment in its current state of unviability. On the other hand, if such talk refers to corporate agriculture (which it usually does), then, far from reducing the misery of the peasants it will only compound it.


The proponents of neo-liberalism usually put forward an additional
argument. And this states that in the long run the only solution to the problem of poverty and unemployment afflicting the agricultural economy is to bring about a shift of the agriculture-dependent population to manufacturing and other non-agricultural pursuits. Instead of shedding tears over the demise of traditional agriculture therefore we should be hastening this demise. Indeed those who wish to protect the peasants by persisting with the “inefficiency” of peasant agriculture, are really the enemy of the peasants, since they are only perpetuating an abysmal state of affairs. 

This argument, apparently so sympathetic to the peasants, would be perfectly valid, if the peasantry, displaced through the promotion of “efficient” agriculture under the aegis of the corporate sector, could actually find alternative employment outside of agriculture. But under the neo-liberal dispensation, even when the country experiences close to double digit growth rate, its unemployment rate actually goes up. Indeed, such is the nature of this growth that even during the period when the growth rate has apparently doubled, the rate of growth of organised sector employment has actually been lower than in the period before liberalisation. Hence the apparent sympathy for the peasants that neo-liberal spokesmen display is in fact a complete sham, a camouflage for ushering in corporate control over the agricultural economy.

The Left’s view on overcoming the crisis of the countryside accordingly has, as its starting point, the prevention of a corporate-induced decimation of the peasantry, through a protection and nurturing of peasant production. But this nurturing, to be sure, requires organisational changes, away from atomised, individual farming with dubious resilience. The direction of movement however cannot be corporate agriculture but co-operative and collective forms in which the peasants will have to organise themselves, to take advantage of the economies of scale, to acquire greater bargaining strength, and to ensure that technological change, even when it reduces labour demand, does not cause destitution, since the very owners whose profits increase as a result of such technological changes are the peasants themselves.

“Investment”, “modernisation”, “efficiency” and “productivity increases” are terms which have to be looked at within a class context. Then, instead being used as excuses for ushering in corporate dominance into agriculture, they can point to the appropriate organisational forms through which the mass of peasant population that has nowhere else to go, that cannot be absorbed elsewhere, that faces ruin and destitution, can still survive and prosper.

YSR urged to press for interest waiver on loans…

Special Correspondent

Opposition wants him to lead all-party delegation to Delhi

  • Party leaders lament special packages not reaching genuine farmers in the State
  • MP wants State Government to invoke Rural Indebtedness Relief Act

    HYDERABAD: Three major Opposition parties and farmers’ unions affiliated to the Left parties urged Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy on Thursday to prevail upon the Centre to extend the benefit of interest waiver to the loans obtained by farmers that were rescheduled without their consent.

    The TDP, CPI (M) and CPI and others asked the Chief Minister to lead a delegation of political parties and farmers’ organisations to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to appraise him of the problems faced by the farmers who were not able to pay the compounding and penal interest.

    Ryots in dire straits

    Though the Prime Minister had announced a special package of financial assistance to put an end to the farmers’ suicides, its benefit was not reaching the desired sections due to the technicalities involved in it.

    Participating in a round-table convened by the CPI-affiliated AP Ryotu Sangham here on Thursday, TDP leader K. Vidyadhara Rao, S. Sudhakar Reddy, MP (CPI), CPI (M) leader S. Malla Reddy and others lamented that the Government’s packages were benefiting wilful defaulters at the expense of farmers who were in dire need of assistance.

    While the Government had announced that farmers would be eligible for fresh credit, NABARD was refusing to finance them citing technical reasons.

    Mr. Vidyadhara Rao said a majority of farmers were still not covered under institutional credit and efforts should be made to revive the cooperative credit structure. Mr. Sudhakar Reddy suggested that the State could invoke the Rural Indebtedness Relief Act incorporating provisions like waiver of interests and deferment of loan.

    Mr. Malla Reddy said the Centre should control the interest charged by private lenders by taking steps like writing off the loans once the interest exceeded the principal.

    APCC spokesman N. Tulasi Reddy assured that he would take the matter to the notice of the Government seeking its immediate action into it. Ryotu Sangham representative K. Ramakrishna presided over the event.

  • Farmers must be given a better deal: Kerala governor

    Friday, January 26, 2007

    Continuing farmer suicides are unacceptable in a modern society and it is up to not just the government but also the people to ensure that they are given a better deal, Kerala Governor R.L. Bhatia said Friday in his Republic Day address.

    Presiding over the Republic Day celebrations at the Central Stadium here, Bhatia unfurled the national flag and took salute at the march past. He also distributed awards for meritorious services in a function attended by Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan, ministers and top officials.

    Declaring that farmer suicides were a shame, he said Kerala must make advances in the financial sector.

    Reports indicate that after Achuthanandan took over last May, about 60 farmers, mostly in Wayanad and Palakkad, have taken their lives following huge debts due to falling prices of agricultural produce, especially cash crops like pepper and areca nut.

    ‘This is not only the responsibility of the government but of the entire society,’ said Bhatia.

    A harvest of despair…

    As crops fail and loans from moneylenders come due, desperate farmers in India increasingly turn to suicide

    by Sumathi Reddy, Spring 2006 IRP Fellow

    KARIMNAGAR, India – At midmorning, the woman named Gourakka stood watching her son wade into the waters of the Godavari River to release the ashes of her husband, another farmer who had given up. She left his favorite meal of rice and egg curry on a palm frond by the river for his soul to eat.
    Recently widowed Gourakka and her son,
    Ganesh, 6, conduct a religious ceremony
    in memory of her husband.

    Her husband, Kotari Madhukar, had committed suicide, an act she could trace back to their hopes of becoming more than landless laborers. Seeing so many farmers earn money from cotton and chili, they had borrowed from moneylenders to lease 2 acres.

    She could blame the suicide on the family’s inability to repay the loan, which caused them to lose the land, which deprived them of a decent income. Or on the bottle of pesticide that Madhukar chose to swallow, chemicals intended for the chili crop. After Madhukar collapsed under a tree, a tractor driver saw him and the family came running, but it was too late.

    The moneylenders still visit, says Gourakka, who, like many people in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, goes by one name.

    The family had leased the acreage and spent about $570 a year on the land, seed, fertilizer and pesticides. Because of interest of more than 30 percent a year, Madhukar owed about $2,270 by the time he died.

    “They say, ‘He died. That’s OK, you’re here. You can pay the debt,'” she says. “They come every two or three days. Before he died, they would come daily.”

    Across India, where millions of farmers are struggling to eke out a living, thousands of farm workers have resorted to suicide, acts of desperation that highlight a widening rift between India’s cities and the countryside.

    The suicides have occurred in states rich and poor, from Punjab in the north to Andhra Pradesh in the south to the central state of Maharastra.

    In Maharashtra, the suicide rate among farmers more than tripled from 1995 to 2004, according to the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development in Mumbai (the city better known as Bombay).

    Government officials report that in the past five years, the number of suicides in Maharashtra and three other states numbered 8,900, a figure that some researchers say is significantly understated.

    India’s success stories – computer research institutes, technology start-ups, call centers serving customers around the world – are in cities, not the countryside.

    The cities are where a new generation of credit holders live and work. In the countryside, farmers who have no land to use as collateral or default on previous loans and are forced to borrow from unregulated local moneylenders, whose interest rates sometimes exceed 100 percent a year. For those farmers, borrowing becomes a matter of life or death.

    ‘Strong polarization’

    “There has been a very strong polarization of development,” says M.S. Swaminathan, chairman of the government’s National Commission on Farmers, which was created two years ago to reform the country’s agricultural policies.

    “The rural areas started getting relatively less attention or no attention. The Indian farmer by and large has been bypassed by economic growth.”

    Farming families interviewed in three Indian states trace some of their problems to the rising cost of fertilizers, seeds and pesticides, a financial hardship made worse by farmers’ limited access to banks.

    The fickleness of weather and the paucity of irrigated land add to the risks and increase a farmer’s chance of going into debt. So do rising costs for health care, their children’s education and dowries.

    Finally, there is the desire to do better, which almost always comes at a price: The landless want to lease land; those who lease want to own land; the marginal farmer strives to plant a larger area; the farmer with an average-size plot of land aspires to a larger spread.

    “Their aspirations have gone up, their incomes have gone down, and they don’t know what to do,” says K.C. Suri, a political science professor at Nagarjuna University in Andhra Pradesh, where farmer suicides began in the late 1990s.

    “They’re able to see people living in a much more comfortable way, so they feel this deprivation. There is the impact of all of this on the psyche of the farmer.”

    The result is a country driven in different directions.

    About 60 percent of Indians work in agriculture, but agriculture accounts for about 20 percent of the economy. Overall, the economy is growing by nearly 8 percent a year; agriculture hovers at about 2 percent.

    “There are two pictures in India,” says Kishore Tiwari, an advocate for farmers in Maharashtra, the third-largest state, as he unfurls a map where skulls and crossbones mark this year’s most recent suicide victims.

    “One picture is the index of the Indian stock exchange rising rapidly. But farmer suicides are jumping with the same speed. So these are the two Indias. One India is in Nagpur, Delhi and Mumbai.”

    “The other India, it’s here.”

    The day Gourakka and her son scattered Madhukar’s ashes, President Bush was in nearby Hyderabad, the technology boom town that is Andhra Pradesh’s capital. He spoke to students at the Indian School of Business there, the young adults he described as “the CEOs of tomorrow, the people that are going to help drive this great engine of economic prosperity for India.”

    Hyderabad is home to a Microsoft product-development center, an Oracle software-applications campus, and a regional IBM headquarters for applications management services.

    At call centers, workers in air-conditioned offices master American accents, the better to answer Americans’ questions about computers and credit cards.

    Gourakka has never traveled the 150 miles to Hyderabad. She has not heard of the place called the United States, she says, or the person called President Bush. She believes she is between 25 and 30 years old. No one in Begulur, her village, has running water. A few have electricity, though Gourakka does not. It is possible that a household or two has a telephone.

    Gourakka’s 6-year old son, Ganesh, is the first person in the extended family to attend school, but she wonders how long she can afford even those minimal fees. Her only source of income is the 50 cents a day she can earn as a laborer in other farmers’ fields, work that is not always available.

    “What do I have to make him study,” she says. “I can’t read or write. I won’t be able to send him” to school when he gets older.

    “I should think about our food now. The breadwinner of our family is now gone. I’m thinking what to do now, how to repay my debt.”

    Gourakka wonders how to pay even for the Hindu priest who oversaw the ceremonies for Madukar. She has moved into the house of her mother, Raghava, 65, who was already worried about the prospects of another daughter, who is 13. “How will I get her married?” says Raghava, looking at the girl.

    The 13-year-old burrows her head in her lap and begins to cry. Gourakka begins to wail. The men in the village try to hush them. But their pleas are drowned out by the crying that chases away even the children.

    Villages for sale

    “This village is for mortgage,” says the painted scrawl on a building in the village of Shivni Rasulapur.

    “Don’t do suicide. Don’t die by sitting at home,” says a bright orange sign splashed across a teal blue house.

    “Give rational price for agricultural produce,” says another.

    Shivni Rasulapur is one of at least four villages in the northeastern part of Maharashtra to put itself up for sale this year. Most of the houses here have sale prices painted on them, as do bullock carts and cattle.

    The community’s goal is to sell the entire village, preferably to the state government, so that residents can pa
    y off their debts, give up cotton farming and try new ventures, such as poultry or dairy herds.

    Few of the villages expect it to happen. “This is the only way to get funds,” says Pundalik Tarakar, a cotton farmer. “Even if we want to sell the land, we won’t get a buyer.”

    They can try to draw attention, though. When the state government’s Cotton Federation cut the support price for cotton last year, farm activists say, the number of farmer suicides rose, to more than 500 since June of last year. Ninety percent of the farming households in Shivni Rasulapur have significant debts, says Sanjay Jewde, a resident and local reporter.

    There have been hunger strikes and a 62-mile solidarity march to another village that put itself up for sale. After government officials arrived for a meeting, the village council unsuccessfully tried to pressure the state by asking it to waive all outstanding bank loans.

    In the nearby village of Shingnapur, farmers won attention by declaring their intention to open a kidney transplant center where they could sell their organs, though selling kidneys is illegal. Every household in the village – men, women and children – signed up, says Suryapal Chauhan, the vice president of a local farmers organization, holding up the ledger.

    They went so far as to invite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to a make-believe grand opening.

    “The country’s leader’s claim that we’ll surpass America in coming years, and at this same time farmers are facing these problems and committing suicide,” Chauhan says. “We can’t lead a dignified life.”

    In another village, Lohari Sawanga, a group of men gathered near the house of a newly widowed farmer’s wife to talk about their plight.

    Shop owners in the village are troubled because the farmers can’t afford to shop. Pravin Chaple says he gives 25 percent of the customers in his general store credit. “Eventually, they won’t pay the credit,” he says. “I have to let them go.”

    These are not marginal farmers. They have 5 acres or more, but all seem to have sizable debts resulting from the increasing production costs of cotton and especially the use of seed genetically modified to resist cotton pests.

    Even funerals are paid for on credit. “On all fronts we are in trouble,” says Prakash Joshi, who grows cotton, soybeans and oranges on his 20 acres. “When you are poor, a small natural trigger will cause big problems.”

    Farmers hear about the rising salaries of teachers and other educated professionals. “The discrimination is very clear,” says Joshi. “The rift is widening.”

    “I’ll be in debt until death, and I’ll ensure that I’ll keep my sons and grandchildren in debt, too,” says D.J. Phandi, a farmer with 16 acres of cotton who is sitting alongside Joshi. “We’ll all commit suicide, go up to heaven and cultivate the farms there. That will be more profitable.”

    Debts pile up

    Suvarna Mamidwar and her family – with electricity, a television, a servant and a small garden where chili and cabbage grow – are well off by the standards of the countryside. Cows and chickens roam the area separating her low, spacious house from her brother-in-law’s.

    She married Subash Mamidwar in 1982, when she was about 16. Bride and groom were educated, she through elementary school, Subash through high school.

    After the birth of a daughter and son, Subash always stressed the importance of a good education for them, and last fall, their daughter entered college.

    Subash and his brother, Sunil, shared 18 acres of farmland and the compound where they lived. Like many other cotton farmers, the brothers were in debt because of the cost of fertilizer, pesticides and seeds, and because their crop yield was declining.

    “Every year we have to borrow from the cooperative society,” Sunil says. “Usually, we repay the loan, but we failed to do that this year.”

    That debt greatly upset Subash because there suddenly seemed to be so many things to worry about. The crop might fail; his daughter would soon need a dowry; the loans, most of them from moneylenders charging 30 percent interest, had to be repaid.

    Genetically modified cotton was supposed to help them, Sunil says. They expected the seeds to produce a bigger crop and help dig them out of their debt. Subash bought several bags of genetically modified seed, at five times the cost of regular seed.

    He then watched the cotton plants turn red because of a nutrient deficiency in the soil. His harvest was a fourth the usual size and sold for a price significantly lower than had been expected because of smaller subsidies from the state.

    Then, one morning, Subash woke up a little earlier than usual, drank his usual tea and went into the fields.

    In early afternoon, the family’s servant found him unconscious there. Sunil and the servant took him to a government hospital. He died on the way.

    The bill for the pesticide he swallowed was in his pocket, the liter bottle almost empty.

    The daughter, in whom he had so much pride, plans to drop out of college because that would cost her mother about $200 a year. The daughter will try to find a suitor.

    “We won’t be able to pay for education,” says Suvarna. “She doesn’t want to be a burden. She wants to leave school.”

    Suvarna is worried about finding the $1,000 or more for a dowry. And there are her late husband’s debts – the story of almost every farmer here – totaling about $3,100 and growing every month.

    Government is only 'thinking of' waiver of cooperative farm loan…

    Special Correspondent
    A clear-cut announcement on this is expected in the Budget

    State’s industrial infrastructure to get a boost
    Government plans to set up SEZs in tier-two cities

    IN DETAIL: Governor T.N. Chaturvedi addressing the joint Legislature session in Bangalore on Thursday. — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

    Bangalore: The Governor’s address has put to rest the recent confusion over the proposed waiver of cooperative farm loans, with a clear statement that the Government “is only thinking” of such a move in the interests of farmers.

    The confusion in political circles, in particular between Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy and Deputy Chief Minister and Finance Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, thus apparently looks settled for the present. A clear-cut announcement is expected on this in the ensuing Budget.

    Welfare initiatives

    In his address to the joint session of the State Legislature here on Thursday, Governor T.N. Chaturvedi referred to the people’s welfare initiatives undertaken by the Government, including the proposed waiver of farm loans, the proposed ban on arrack from the coming excise year and the implementation of the financial package provided by the Centre to prevent farmers’ suicides.

    The Governor referred to the buoyant financial position in the State, which enabled the Government to add several new welfare schemes, including provision of bicycles to high school boys and girls from below poverty line families, and the recent scheme to constitute a Greater Bangalore Development Authority.

    The Governor said the Government was “thinking of” waiving the loans obtained by farmers from cooperative institutions and the loan waiver scheme would be implemented with funds obtained by retrieval of encroached lands in Bangalore and their disposal as per rules.

    “A comprehensive study is being made as to the quantum of loans to be waived and the categories of farmers.”

    Meanwhile, the Government has constituted a Cabinet subcommittee to oversee the implementation of a special package (Rs. 2,689.64 crore) of the Centre, announced for six districts (Belgaum, Hassan, Chikmagalur, Chitradurga, Shimoga and Kodagu) of the State where a high incidence of farmers’ suicides have been reported.

    He also announced a two-pronged approach to step up industrial infrastructure in the State in line with the industrial policy announced recently. The Government would acquire land wherever feasible and form industrial layouts to an extent of at least 5,000 acres a year in order to meet the surging demand.

    Further, to upgrade the quality of industrial infrastructure in the industrial estates, Rs. 500 crore would be provided by the Government.

    Mega SEZ

    The Governor said apart from the establishment of special economic zones by the private sector, a mega SEZ dedicated to the petroleum sector had also been planned in Mangalore. The Government was also committed to establishing SEZs in tier-two cities apart from the approval received for establishing SEZs at Hassan, Shimoga and Mangalore.

    Yet another announcement related to a new system in the distribution of foodgrains. He said action was being taken to adopt the unit system wherein all ration cardholders would be eligible for a maximum of 25 kg — 20 kg of rice and 5 kg of wheat.

    With reference to the information technology and bio-technology sectors, the Governor said the Government would organise a Bangalore Nano event this year.

    Of the 208 new IT companies which were commissioned last year, four were listed among the Fortune 500 companies and 11 were billion-dollar companies. The biotech sector had also witnessed a big growth with an investment of over Rs. 500 crore and the entry of 35 new biotech companies, he added.

    In the field of e-governance, the Government would soon commission an e-procurement platform and to begin with it would be implemented in select departments.