Farmers continue to die in Telangana
- Call to build a massive movement to protect farmers.
- Need to sensitize the government and farmers stressed.
- Revival of extension services need of the hour.
K Ramachandra Murthy
Hyderabad, August 25: The path-breaking developments in Andhra Pradesh in the recent years did not change the grim story of the farm sector. Since the formation of Telangana State on June 2, there were as many as 140 deaths of farmers out of despair. It is no comment on the fledgling TRS government’s performance, but it is an indication of the crisis which is yet to be addressed by the new dispensation in the new State. The information collected by the representatives of the Caring Citizens Collective (CCC), an NGO which has been working in the farm sector since 2007, shows that between June 2, the Telangana State formation day, and August 18, 133 farmers committed suicide. The majority of the deaths took place in Adilabad, Karimnagar, Medak and Warangal districts. The average age of the farmers who killed themselves was 32 years. A very important feature of this tragedy is that all the farmers who ended their lives were cotton growers and most of them are from BC and SC communities who were cultivating land as tenants. The tenancy rates in Mid-Maaner project area went up to Rs 20,000 per acre. Harish Rao, Minister for Agriculture, acknowledged the suicides by farmers and appealed to them not to resort to drastic measures promising that the government would go to their rescue. The minister also hinted at the looming drought and cautioned the farmers to be bold. Farmers have been conducting protest meetings in July and August to express their anger at the way power cut is imposed. There have been dharnas and road rokos. The farmers are generally known for their fighting spirit.
Why the gutsy farmers of Telangana who bravely fought against the Nizam’s rule and his feudal order and survived droughts and other natural calamities with a combination of robust optimism and a strong will to live, are growing desperate and getting disillusioned with farming is the question for the economists, sociologists and psychologists to examine. But the fact remains that the farm crisis has been continuing for more than two decades. The farm suicides started in Telangana in 1998 and they continued unabated ever since. The present government which formed after a prolong struggle for statehood should have taken up the farm sector crisis on a priority basis. But all that the new government did was to announce waiver of farm loans. This step would surely give a much needed relief to the farmers but the other problems afflicting the sector would remain unresolved and suicides would continue to take place.
A meeting was organised by CCC on Monday at Press Club, Somajiguda, Hyderabad, in which activists and concerned intellectuals gave a call for a movement to protect the farmers. Prof Kodandaram, chairman of TJAC, Prof D N Reddy, Potturi Venkateswara Rao, K Ramachandra Murthy, senior journalist, Professor Rama Melkote, Professor Ramana Murthy, Anuradha, Sajaya and Kondal of CCC, Janardhan, an activist, and Ashalata, an activist of Rythu Swarajya Vedika and many others participated in the deliberations.
Kondal said he had visited 38 families of the farmers who committed suicide after June 2. He said so far no Government official had contacted any of the families. The farmer deaths were more in areas where cultivation depended on bore wells. The farmers who were growing traditional crops like jowar, groundnuts and other pulses are safe. Only those farmers who persisted with cotton have been paying the price with their precious lives.
A GO (Mo 241) was issued in 2004 soon after YS Rajasekhara Reddy came into power implementing election promise. An amount of Rs 1,50,000 has to be paid to the family of the deceased according to the GO. But there were at least four unreasonable conditions which make it difficult for the farmer’s family to convince the authorities of their eligibility. One of the conditions was that the victim should have land registered in his name. It is impossible to satisfy this condition because most of the victims have been tenants and not owners. Even the tenancy agreement is not properly written. It happens on oral understanding.
According to the data collected by the CCC and other concerned groups, the total number of farmers who committed suicide because of debt burden since 1998 in Telangana alone would be more than 28,000 out of which only about 4000 families received ex gratia so far. Harish Rao was instrumental in getting the relief for the families in his native district of Medak. Other MLAs were not showing any concern. Ashalata quoted News Week magazine which recently published an article titled, “Death on the farm” to explain that there are farm deaths even in countries like the US and France. Janardhan alleged that the RDO in Nalgonda district behaved in an irresponsible manner and did not cooperate when the farmers sought help. There is strong suspicion among the activists that the offiecers and employees of the Revenue Department have unwritten instructions not to recognize and register farm deaths. Prof Rama Melkote said how to make the government take cognizance of the tragedy is the real challenge before the civil society. Prof Ramana Murthy opined that agriculture was given importance in the past only as a part of business and industrial promotion. He explained that the Green Revolution and other measures were only to see that the prices of essential commodities don’t rise, the salaries of the employees did not rise and the companies did not end up in losses. This is how capitalist economy functions, he observed.
Prof D Narasimha Reddy said there is no knowledge deficit as far as agriculture is concerned. It is shocking to see the government which came to power through a prolonged movement has been refusing to take note of the pathetic situation. Pothuri Venkateswara Rao asked the CCC executives to find out the reasons for the farmers’ despair and what is happening in the villages. K Ramachandra Murthy said it is necessary to sensitise the government and the people’s representatives from Panchayat president to MLAs and MPs by holding meetings on regular basis. He also suggested that the farmers also have to be educated to refrain from going for cotton crop which had repeatedly proved to be a killer crop as far as Telangana is concerned. The need to revive the extension services in farm sector was highlighted by him.
Prof Kodandaram gave a clarion call to build a strong and powerful movement to protect the farmers. Farmers’ movement is almost absent in Telangana districts and it has to be revived. He wanted the CCC and other concerned groups to organize meetings in the villages as well as in the universities simultaneously. Anuradha suggested that the student community should be involved in the movement in a big way. She wondered if something could be done to involve corporate sector in this effort as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). A representative of CCC has described the tragedy of the farmers as a national shame.