Friday, February 1, 2013

Farmers’ suicides in Tamil Nadu.

I have been to Tamil Nadu's delta districts of Tiruvarur and Nagappattnam recently with Mr.Jayaram who is an independent researcher. We have visited the families where farmers committed suicide. Four farmers committed suicide due to agrarian crisis and two farmers died of heart attack mainly due to the worries of crop loss in the two districts[i]. We have published a detailed report and released the same to the media in Chennai press club on 25th Jan,2013. The media was not much interested in such reports. The Hindu, Dinakaran and Dina Malar news papers reported our findings. There was no impartiatempt to meet the agriculture secretary was unsuccessful, however a copy of report was sent to him.
I am wondering why the government is not accepting the fact that few farmers committed suicide due to agrarian crisis. Tamil Nadu has been claiming that there is zero farmers’ suicide due to agrarian crisis. In 2006, the previous Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam(DMK) government l news in the media except The Hindu, before we published our report. We sent our report to the chief secretary of Tamil Nadu and expressed our interest to work with the government of Tamil Nadu to deal with the issues in whatever the ways possible to help the farming community. An atwaived agriculture loans of around 7000 crores borrowed by the farmers from cooperative banks. Interest free crop loans are available for crop loans if repaid in time. Free electricity for pump sets are provided in Tamil Nadu. Uzhavar Pathukapputhittam (farmers’ social security scheme) protects farmers to certain extent.
Impressive road net works, good health care system, public education system, child care centers, well functioning maternity benefit schemes,  better social security schemes, free bus travel facility to students up to 12th standard, scholarship program to students, old age pension schemes, universal public distribution system under which cost free rice up to 35 kg a month etc are implemented by the government of Tamil Nadu. To my knowledge, Tamil Nadu is a better state when it is compared with other states in India. Tamil Nadu is one of the fastest growing industrialized states in the country. There is abundant employment opportunity in the industrial sector in the state which has not only attracted labour force of the countryside of the state, but also various other states like Karnataka,Andhra,Bihar, Oddisha, West Bengal etc. I was under the impression that the welfare state nature of the Tamil Nadu was one of the reasons for the farmers not committing suicide due to agrarian crisis.
But, the picture is changing when travelling in the country side of the delta districts and talking to farmers. In our study, we came to know that none of the farmers who committed suicide was able to access institutional credit. All were indebted from private sources at the rate of interest ranging from 24% to 60%. Landless peasants who leased lands and were share cropping. None of them had any savings. None of them had pump sets or a diesel engine to pump water from the river or canal during the scarcity time.  All were small peasants who took extreme steps and took off their life. I have investigated farmers’ suicide in the Wayanad district in Kerala (in 2011 and 2012), Sira in Thumkur district in Karnataka (In 2011). Wayanad is rich in natural resources, indebtedness is also high. Thumkur is drought prone region and depending on rain fed farming, there also farmers were indebted to private money lenders. Kerala’s debt relief commission did no help to the families of Wayanad farmers who committed suicide. But, the Kerala government’s cabinet discussed the issue, appointed a committee in November, 2011 to inquire. In Karnataka, we were able to get a list of farmers committed suicide from the department of Agriculture. The families in Karnataka are struggling to get compensation as the suicides are not eligible according to the Karnataka government norms. Kerala government paid compensation to the families. But, Tamil Nadu is denying any suicide due to crisis.
The welfare measures and schemes of the state definitely reduced pressure on the families to certain extent in Tamil Nadu. The increased industrialisation and impressive road and rail net works helped people in the country side to get alternative employment. But, small and marginal farmers who continue to do farming and to make a life on farming were not able to cope up with the risk of a single crop failure.  Loan waivers will definitely bail out farmers who have borrowed from the banks. How to protect the farmers from the money lenders? Tenancy and share cropping are nowhere recorded. Tenant farmers were not able to access institutional credit. This is the situation in the delta region. Cauvery dispute and the failure of the federal system to ensure interstate water sharing during the distress period also failed the farmers. The word drought has different meaning in the delta and other rain fed regions. There are different causes in the different parts of the country to the distress in agriculture ranging from increase in cost of cultivation to collapse of the market due to WTO, from digging a tube well to buying a tractor which has killer machine to many farmers.
There are suicides reported in Thirunelveli, Kanyakumari, Tirupur, Pudukkottai and Cudalore districts which needs impartial investigation. Few opposition parties have recognized the issue and have given ex-gratia to some families. If government admits farmers’ suicides due to agrarian crisis, then it is accountable to address the issue. The opposition will make definitely take all efforts to embarrass the government and will say it is failure of the governance. Even though agriculture in the state list under Indian constitution, the central government is mostly responsible for the failure of agriculture. The government of India is doing everything in agriculture. There is an agriculture minister, Indian council of Agriculture research, Genetic engineering approval committee, central patent act, farmers rights act, trade mainly controlled by the central government, minimum support price is fixed by the central government etc. What is that central government is not doing in agriculture.
It is the time to the government of Tamil Nadu to investigate the farmers’ suicides all over the state and address the crisis in priority. It is also time for the state governments to demand the demand the government of India to admit and address the agrarian crisis.

[i] A fact finding report on farmers suicides in the delta regions of Tamil Nadu by S.Kannaiyan and Jayaram Venkatesan. This can be obtained through email.