Don't Let Farmers Kill Themselves
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Recent farmer suicides in north India have ignited an intense debate about the desperate situation in the agricultural sector and the government's failure to help farmers.
Those who kill themselves do so in extreme circumstances when they see no ray of hope.
Crops getting destroyed by natural calamities is nothing new in India. A large part of cultivable land in the country depends on monsoons, which is a gamble in itself.
Drought, storms, untimely and torrential rains, floods, hail storms and landslides affect crops across the country. During 65 years of planned economic development, successive governments have been trying to help rural people to better cope with calamities.
The death of farmer Gajendra Singh, who hanged himself from a tree during a political rally in New Delhi last month, led to a noisy debate in parliament and received wide media coverage. Singh belonged to a middle class family of Rajasthan. He was flamboyant, energetic and ambitious. According to his family members, he was perfectly normal when he left the village for a protest in the national capital. The need of the hour is that political parties must not politicise the tragedy. Central and state governments must realise that the situation of farmers is bad and needs a mature and compassionate response.
Suicides are committed often in agrarian India. During the last 68 years since independence, millions of small and marginal farmers have committed suicides due to economic compulsions.
About 75 per cent farmers own small holdings. These are too small to be exploited in a commercial way. Many farmers also obtain land from landlords for cultivation. They bear all the expenses of cultivation, including that of seeds, irrigation, fertilizers and harvesting. When the crop is ready they give 50 per cent of the crop to the landlord as compensation for the use of land.
In these circumstances, when crops are destroyed due to natural disasters, farmers suffer from various sides. Within their meagre resources, farmers have to confront problems such paying the landlord, settling loans, feeding their families, and arranging for materials for new crops.
India is an agricultural country, with 52 per cent of the total population earning its livelihood from farming directly. If we include people engaged in ancillary professions like transportation, storage and warehousing, and trading, then this may rise to 65 per cent.
Agriculture's contribution to the GDP has declined over the decades and is pegged at 14.2 per cent at present.
This declining contribution of farming to the GDP is regarded by economists as a sign of development. This tendency is explained by the rapid development of non-agricultural professions like industry and services. A large number of industries in India such as textiles, sugar, bakery, edible oils, toiletries, commodities, and processed food and juices get their raw material from the agriculture sector.
Truly speaking, there exists a direct and positive co-relation between the prosperity of agrarian people and the success of consumer goods industries like readymade clothes, watches, kitchen appliances, consumer electronics and automobiles. Agriculture holds the key to economic development. Still the sector suffers from so many vulnerabilities.
During Five-Year Plans there has been a considerable increase in agricultural output and productivity. After the third Five-Year Plan, a new agricultural strategy was adopted. This ushered in the "Green Revolution", transforming India from a food importing country to an exporter of commodities. Wheat production has grown multi-fold, but the output of gram and pulses needs improvement. But the prosperity of rural India has benefited mostly large farmers. Thus the Green Revolution caused concentration of wealth in fewer hands in the agrarian economy, surrounded by millions of poor farmers. According to one estimate, 85 per cent of farmers on an average own an agricultural holding of 2.5 acre each. A farmer cannot feed his family by operating such a small holding. Natural calamities hit these people the hardest. These peasants deserve government support and compensation in times of calamities.
Across India, 158,745 suicides occurred from 2004 to 2013. Maximum deaths were reported from Maharashtra followed by Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan and Haryana.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, from 1995 to 2013, 296,438 farmers committed suicides. In 2012, as many as 46 farmers killed themselves on a daily basis. This is a blot on the face of India. There were 13,574 suicides in 2013 in the country, out of which Rajasthan witnessed 292 deaths, including 25 women.
Economic reasons as well as people being subjected to inhuman treatment and exploitation can be blamed for these suicides.
In light of such grave loss of human lives, compensation should be determined scientifically and systematically in an honest manner and disbursed to the relatives of the deceased at the earliest to lessen their miseries.
The authors are former associate professors of economics at Delhi University