Farm crisis: Need for plan, not blame game

S Madhusudhana Rao

A suicide bid by a young farmer, Sammayya, near the Telangana State Assembly might not have had any effect on the proceedings of the House on Tuesday. But his attempt to drink pesticide atop a cell phone tower and the reason to end his life had brought to the fore, once again, the agrarian crisis gripping the state. Sammayya, of course, was persuaded by the police to climb down and a bottle of pesticide he was carrying had been seized. A farmer’s life was saved, no doubt, but could the government save the lives of thousands of farmers who are on the verge of death?

Earlier in September a debt-ridden farmer had ended his life in a central area of Hyderabad by hanging himself from an electric pole. Since then dozens of farmers across the state have committed suicide. On Monday alone, 11 farmers, three of them women, were reported to have committed suicide in six of ten districts.

In the past one year, nearly 1400 farmers were said to have taken the extreme step in Telangana and 160 in Andhra Pradesh. Telangana is second only to Maharashtra in farmers’ suicides, although the government disputes the statistics. Officials put the figure at 689, the cases that have come to the government’s notice, obviously seeking compensation. But the opposition parties and non-governmental organizations claim that a number of farmers’ suicides go unreported because either officials don’t enumerate them or the families of the deceased fail to report the deaths to the officials concerned. Even if such high death toll is discounted, the fact remains that Telangana does have an agrarian crisis on hand and it’s better for the government to realize it and work towards resolving it rather than criticizing the previous TDP and Congress governments for the mounting farm problems. Nor is it prudent to blame the media for highlighting the farmers’ suicides.

Agrarian crisis is universal, but farmers’ suicides are peculiar to India. Crop losses, farm debts, droughts, floods and other distress conditions can force farmers to take the extreme step. But it is imperative on the part of any government to take remedial steps, both short-term and long-term. Immediate steps should include writing off farm loans, supply of inputs like seeds and fertilizer at reasonable cost and remunerative price for their produce. Long-term measures must take into consideration the truant monsoons, river water sharing, easy bank loans and minimising the role of rural moneylenders and middlemen.

What’s happening in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh is only the tip of the iceberg of an all India problem that is bigger with potential to throw the country into a food importer, once again. Therefore, the centre and the states together should chalk out plans at national and state’s level to tackle the crisis. Since the Telangana Assembly has started discussing it, members should come to the farmers’ rescue in non-partisan way.

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