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The rights of displaced people

Posted by Ramoo on February 26, 2007…

Dr Sandeep Pandey

The Government of Andhra Pradesh has acquired 340 acres of village common lands, 70 acres of temple lands from the Endowments Department and 500 acres from the local Gram Panchayat – China Mambattu of the Tada Mandal in Nellore District to set up a Special Economic Zone here. Some private industrialists have purchased another 100 acres of agricultural lands in the vicinity. 400 acres of the SEZ have being given to Apache to set up a shoe factory.
Three hamlets of the panchayat, N.M. Kandrika, China Mambattu and Peda Mambattu are being affected by this SEZ. There are weavers, shepards, barbers, washer men and women and Yanadi tribals living in these villages. The most vulnerable among these are the Yanadis because they do not have any land ownership making them ineligible to receive any kind of compensation in lieu of the displacement caused by the SEZ. The question of such communities and their livelihoods which are non farm based and dependent on natural resources and Community Property Resources is the most crucial one here.
Bandi Polamma, a member of the Yanadi community says that because of the land being sold they are losing their daily wages. The water bodies too are either being taken over by the company or are being polluted as a result of which fishing is becoming increasingly difficult as a livelihood option. Apache is setting up a fence which is making it difficult to access the forest which was a source for firewood. The tribals used to earn a part of their income by selling firewood. Hence the life and livelihood of this community is getting seriously affected due to the setting up of the shoe company here.
The local community facing displacement was promised jobs, education for their children, etc. However, it turns out that all promises were false. The displaced people have been left to fend to for themselves. Only two women have got sweeper’s job in the Apache shoe factory! The people feel let down and are in a public hearing organized in Nellore on 31st January, 2007 by Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Vruthidarula Union and Andhra Pradesh Matsyakarula Union they have expressed their intention to wage a struggle for their basic rights. Earlier a public hearing organized by the Government on 6th January turned out to be a sham as no people were allowed inside the hearing.
The people are demanding that every family displaced by the SEZ must be provided 2 acres of agricultural land with irrigation facility within the Panchayat limits, a housing site with low cost house built by the government, fishing nets worth Rs. 3000, one bicycle and a compensation of Rs. 10,000 per annum for the next 25 years.
At the same public hearing people from the Midderevu village of Muthukur Mandal of the same district also presented their woes. 1329.43 acres of land in three Panchayats, Krishnapatnam, Muthukur and Thamminapatnam is being acquired by the Government to set up Krishnapatnam Greenfield Port and Krishnapatnam Ultra Mega Power Project.
Midderevu village is next to Kandaleru creek and Bay of Bengal. Land along seashore is used for parking of boats, nets, catamarans, etc. People use common lands for grazing and firewood collection. They have also planted casurina in ten acres along the seashore. The village was hit by Tsunami and was only beginning to recover from the economic shock. In violation of the CRZ regulations, the villagers are being asked to cut the casurina plantation now. They are being asked to resettle at a distance of 7 km from the seashore and the local district collector has promised jobs for every youth.
180 families living in the village, including 20 Yanadi, mostly depend on fishing for livelihood. They are completely baffled by the idea of doing fishing from a distance of 7 kms. The fish move in groups and the colour of the sea is to be watched on a regular basis to determine when to begin the fishing operations. Parking of boats and gear would become a problem. In addition they would have to buy wood and fodder, imposing extra burden on their income. The people of Midderevu also face the dilemma of how to repay the Rs. 38 lakhs loan they had collectively borrowed from fish merchants in the post-Tsunami phase on the condition of supplying their catch.
People of Midderevu would not get any compensation because they do not own any agricultural land. Their traditional occupation has been fishing. But the existing legal framework doesn’t recognize fisher people’s right over the sea, for payment of compensation.
The people of Midderevu are determined in their resolve not to be displaced before the promises being made to them are fulfilled. They want that each family being displaced be given 2.5 acres of agricultural land, house constructed for them with a cost of Rs. 1 lakh, a compensation of Rs. 5 lakhs for forgoing fishing (rights) on the sea and adequate compensation for all plantations in the households and along the sea. Collectively they want repayment of Rs. 38 lakhs loan by the government on their behalf to the fish merchants, construction of fishing harbour for safe parking of boats and gear and provision of basic infrastructure like roads, drinking water, electricity, schools and community hall, etc, at the resettlement and rehabilitation site.
The demands being made by the people of China Mambattu and Midderevu are quite legitimate considering that most of the families may be forced to completely alter their lifestyles and livelihood options. The respective compensation package being demanded in the two cases will at least ensure that the families will have a one generation cushion to rehabilitate and resettle themselves. But since the authorities are not known to be very sympathetic to the people facing displacement in such cases, it is unlikely that the demand will be met easily. However, as increasingly more and more communities are awakening to their traditional rights under threat from modern development projects, in particular, and their human rights, in general, they are throwing up more resistance all over the country. The Government will ignore these democratic resistances and demands at its own peril.
Dr Sandeep Pandey

(Dr Sandeep Pandey is recepient of Dr Ramon Magsaysay Award for the year 2002, and is a reputed social activist leading National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Human Rights (PUHR). He had co-founded Asha in 1991 in Berkeley California, after which he returned back to teach at India’s premier engineering institute (IIT Kanpur). He is presently actively engaged in strengthening people’s movements across the country, and can be reached at:

Posted in Andhra Pradesh, Displacement, Land question, SEZs | Leave a Comment »

Desparate Indian Farmers Kill themselves in ‘Free’ Market Economy

Posted by Ramoo on February 19, 2007….

Siliconeer, News Feature, Siliconeer Report, Posted: Feb 19, 2007

You watch “I Want My Father Back,” Suma Josson’s poignant documentary film on the misery of small-scale farmers in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, and it breaks your heart.
Academics may argue about economic statistics, ideologues can engage in polemical debates, but Suma Josson has actually been there, and documented the suffering first hand.
I Want My Father Back was screened recently in the Bay Area at the University of California at Berkeley, Fremont and Santa Clara in association with the India Relief and Education Fund (, a 12-year-old Bay Area organization, which works towards increasing awareness about social justice issues in India.
Whether it’s an inconsolable father sadly going over the modest belongings of his daughter who committed suicide, or a son crying his heart out as he reminisces about his father’s suicide while his grandfather’s creased face is immobile in stoic silence, you realize that the policies that can do this to ordinary, decent people is nothing short of criminal.
Step back and think about it for a moment, and your disquiet is even greater. There are many questions but no answers. Why is the Indian media AWOL on this issue? Where is the public outrage?
The statistics are staggering. From 1998 to 2006, over 100,000 farmers have committed suicides. In Vidarbha, 3,000 farmers have taken their lives in the 1999-2006 period. Since June 2005, 2-3 farmers have been committing suicides every day.
Yet you wouldn’t know that from the Indian media. Reports of farmer suicides and protests do appear in fits and spurts, but most of the media appears focused on the glitzy malls, the phoren fast-food chains, the luxury cars, the call centers and the hip lifestyles o the rich and famous.
So what’s going on here?
The farming crisis did not happen in a day, the film argues. It is the result of decades of wrong policies.
It all began with the Green Revolution in the 1960s, says environmental activist Vandana Shiva. “The Green Revolution is neither green nor a revolution,” she says in the film. “It was a means to open new markets for fertilizers.”
Fertilizers, pesticides and now genetically modified seeds have transformed Indian farming. In the traditional farming method, farmers used to plant multiple crops, food along with cash crops.
Now it’s different: it’s about capital intensive farming and monocrop, and buying seeds from pesticide sellers. The upshot of all this is that small-scale farmers are obliged to borrow heavily from moneylenders to grow cash crops.
If you think that’s bad, you don’t even know the half of it. The real fun begins when the farmer takes his crops to the market to sell it. Thanks to the arm-twisting of the U.S. dominated multilateral organizations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization — and if truth be told, the appalling spinelessness of the Indian political masters — Indian farmers are locked in a bizarre, unequal battle.
While subsidies for inputs and government procurement programs for the Indian farmer are jettisoned, he is pitted against the farmers of the affluent West who are formidably fortified by generous government support. Some free market, this.
Take cotton. The 25,000 cotton farmers in the U.S. get a subsidy $230 per acre. It should come as no surprise that in this kind of “free” market, from being a traditional exporter of cotton, India has become the world’s third largest importer of cotton.
What happens to the cotton farmer is shown in harrowing detail in the film. Up to their neck in debt, facing plummeting prices for their crops, they are committing suicide in droves.
According to UNICEF, one third of the world’s hungry children live in India. “Our leaders who talk about Shining India, Superpower India, they should be drowned in a palmful of water along with this figures,” fumes Shiva. “(We are a nation of) 70 percent farmers, (with) plenty of sun and water. The soil is good. In such a nation farmers are committing suicide. Children are dying of hunger. This is totally unacceptable.”
Kishor Bhoer, a farmer in Vidarbha, is more blunt: “It’s either suicide or the Naxalites (militant Leftists).”

Posted in Andhra Pradesh, Farmers Suicides, Maharashtra, Vidharba Crisis | 1 Comment »

RTI ACT-six farmer suicides per day

Posted by Ramoo on February 18, 2007

Nearly 7,000 farmers committed suicide in different parts of the country in just three years, according to government statistics alone. The average is even more frightening: it works out to six farmers killing themselves every day during that period.

Despite this, no mechanism has been put in place to monitor the progress of implementation of the Prime Minister’s special package for the farmers of 31 suicide-prone districts across Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra, according to the reply furnished by the Union agriculture ministry to a set of questions posed by this newspaper under the Right to Information Act.

The figures, complete only till November 2006, reveal that 6,899 farmers had committed suicide till that date. Of the affected states, Maharashtra, which was singled out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for a special visit, registered a tremendous increase in suicides by farmers with the toll rising from 577 in 2005 to 1,843, according to figures compiled by the state government till October 31, 2006. Kerala, according to government statistics, has registered an increase as well from 120 deaths in 2005 to 146 till November last year.

Andhra Pradesh, which had witnessed 1,126 farmer suicides in 2004-05, brought the figure down to 92 last year, while Karnataka’s highest of 708 deaths in 2003-04 has been reduced gradually to 44 till November last year. To a question on the “current status of benefits accrued to the victims of farmers’ families of these 31 districts as a result of the Prime Minister’s special package”, the ministry’s reply, signed by additional commissioner (policy) K.G. Radhakrishnan, remarked, “This is being handled in the Credit Division of DAC.” However, the actual reply gave a 10-point note with a leading remark that said, “The following benefits to the farmers are envisaged under the PM’s Relief Package.” The reply then mentioned ex-gratia assistance from the Prime Minister’s Natural Calamities Relief Fund of Rs 50 lakhs per district, debt relief for farmers, and an estimated credit flow of Rs 1,275 crores for the current financial year 2006-07. Notably, the reply failed to include what percentage of the credit flow in the same financial year has already been achieved.

Regarding interest waivers, it said, “The overdue interest on agricultural loans as on June 30, 2006, amounting to Rs 712 crores, will be waived. The burden of waiver will be shared equally between the Central and state governments.” The reply blandly repeated the special package announcement that “1.59 lakh hectares will be brought under assured irrigation facilities at a cost of Rs 2,177 crores over a period of three years through completion of all major, medium and minor irrigation projects.” The package included a massive seed replacement programme and the ministry’s reply fails to quantify what is the progress achieved, despite mentioning it. Though the package advocated watershed development and construction of check dams, none of the four states have so far begun work on check dams, according to ministry sources. However, the reply says, “500 check dams every year will be constructed over the next three years.” The watershed development programme has also not made much headway in the four states. The note throws no light on the progress of subsidiary income programmes like livestock, dairies and fisheries. Though the internal agriculture ministry action plan for the implementation of the package called for monitoring committees to be set up by respective state governments, only the Andhra Pradesh government’s monitoring committee has reported to the Centre so far, according to agriculture ministry sources.

Maharashtra topped the number for distress suicides by farmers last year across the country and two-thirds of the number of these suicides are accounted for by six districts in the Vidarbha region. Farmer suicides until October 31 last year in that state were 1,843. Six districts of the impoverished Vidarbha region — Akola, Amravati, Buldhana, Washim, Yavatmal and Wardha — witnessed 1,156 distress suicides by farmers, almost 100 suicides per day. Until November 2006, the number of farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh was 139, Karnataka recorded 77 and the state of Kerala recorded 135 suicides.

While states like Andhra Pradesh, too, witnessed a large number of farmer suicides, 1,843 in a year is unprecedented. Andhra Pradesh had witnessed 1,126 farmer suicides in 2004-05; no other state has recorded more than 1,000 farmer suicides in a year. Even in the case of Maharashtra, the distress deaths grew exponentially. In calendar 2003, the number of deaths was 170, in 2004 622 farmer suicides were recorded, 2005 saw 577 farmers perish, and in 2006 the suicide count reached 1,843, according to the data in the ministry’s reply.

Within the Vidarbha region, Yavatmal district witnessed 282 farmer suicides during the first 11 months of 2006. Buldhana, with 248 suicides, Amravati with 208, Akola with 146, Washim with 142, Wardha with 132 suicides, and more farmer suicides being reported from these districts continue to put a question mark on the effectiveness of the government’s measures.

Posted in Andhra Pradesh, Farmers Suicides, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Policy issues | 1 Comment »

Seven thousand farmers committed suicide in three years

Posted by Ramoo on February 18, 2007

Sunday, 18 February 2007

NEW DELHI, Feb 18 APP: About seven thousand farmers have committed suicide in India in just three years.

        The Asian Age in its lead story on Sunday quoting government statistics said the average is even more frightening:  it works out to six farmers killing themselves every day during the period.
       According to the daily no mechanism has been put in place to monitor the progress of implementation of the Prime Minister’s special package for  distressed farmers.
       In 31 suicide – prone districts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.
     Quoting Union Agriculture Ministry, the paper said the figure complete only till November 2006, reveals that 6, 899 farmers have committed till that date. Of the affected states Maharashtra, which was singled out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for a special visit, registered a tremendous increase in suicides by farmers with the toll rising from 577 in 2005 to 1,843, according to statistics till October 31, 2006. 
      Kerala, according to government statistics, has registered an increase as well from 120 last year.  Andhra Pradesh, which had witnessed 1,126 farmer suicides in 2004 -05, brought the figure down to 92 last year, while Karnataka’s highest of 78 deaths in 2003-04 has been reduced gradually to 45 till Novembers last year.
        The paper quoted the PM relief fund to improving the plight of the farmers which include setting up dams, waiving off loans,  ex-gratia assistance from the Prime Miniter’s Natural Calamities Relief Fund of Rs. 50 lacks per district, an estimated credit flow of Rs. 1, 275 crores for the current financial year 2006-07.

Posted in Andhra Pradesh, Farmers Suicides, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Vidharba Crisis | Leave a Comment »

Seven thousand farmers committed suicide in three years

Posted by Ramoo on February 18, 2007


Sunday, 18 February 2007

NEW DELHI, Feb 18 APP: About seven thousand farmers have committed suicide in India in just three years.

        The Asian Age in its lead story on Sunday quoting government statistics said the average is even more frightening:  it works out to six farmers killing themselves every day during the period.
       According to the daily no mechanism has been put in place to monitor the progress of implementation of the Prime Minister’s special package for  distressed farmers.
       In 31 suicide – prone districts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.
     Quoting Union Agriculture Ministry, the paper said the figure complete only till November 2006, reveals that 6, 899 farmers have committed till that date. Of the affected states Maharashtra, which was singled out by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for a special visit, registered a tremendous increase in suicides by farmers with the toll rising from 577 in 2005 to 1,843, according to statistics till October 31, 2006. 
      Kerala, according to government statistics, has registered an increase as well from 120 last year.  Andhra Pradesh, which had witnessed 1,126 farmer suicides in 2004 -05, brought the figure down to 92 last year, while Karnataka’s highest of 78 deaths in 2003-04 has been reduced gradually to 45 till Novembers last year.
        The paper quoted the PM relief fund to improving the plight of the farmers which include setting up dams, waiving off loans,  ex-gratia assistance from the Prime Miniter’s Natural Calamities Relief Fund of Rs. 50 lacks per district, an estimated credit flow of Rs. 1, 275 crores for the current financial year 2006-07.

Posted in Andhra Pradesh, Farmers Suicides, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Vidharba Crisis | Leave a Comment »

Farmers suicides rampant in AP

Posted by Ramoo on February 18, 2007

NDTV Sunday, February 18, 2007 (Nalgonda):

From June last year, over 600 farmers have killed themselves in Andhra Pradesh alone.
In fact, ever since the UPA came to power an estimated 8,500 farmers have committed suicide in the country, indicating a serious crisis of hope and confidence.
Around six weeks ago cotton farmer Ranga Reddy from Ramulabanda village in Nalgonda district committed suicide.
“For his sons’ education, he took loans. Despite all problems, he was keen to make them study. He would say they are boys, my life is gone at least my sons’ should live well,” said Sunanda, Ranga Reddy’s mother.
Ranga Reddy was a proud father and the day he committed suicide his children had been sent back from school for not paying their fees.
His sons, Kiran and Yadagiri, were also not permitted to sit for the half-yearly exams.
It appears that an embarrassed father – who had just spent all the money he could raise to dig a borewell, which yielded no water – perhaps decided he could take it no more.
Inheritance of loss
“I have to pay up to Rs 2000 as annual fee. I don’t know how I will pay it. They will not let us write the exam,” said Kiran, Class X student.
What this situation has become for this generation next in the agriculture community is an inheritance of loss.
On the day that Ranga Reddy committed suicide in Nalgonda district, in the neighbouring district of Medak, a 21-year-old man drank pesticide and ended his life.
He took this decision because his farmer father had left each of his three sons with a debt of Rs 1.2 lakh rupees.
It is no wonder that one hardly finds any farmer who will say that he wants his son to take up agriculture, which is something that the entire country needs to worry about.

Posted in Andhra Pradesh, Farmers Suicides | Leave a Comment »

Debt spells death for Andhra farmers

Posted by Ramoo on February 14, 2007

Priyanjana Dutta, CNN-IBN

Posted Tuesday , February 13, 2007 at 22:36

Updated Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 08:23

Anantapur: Farmer suicides is a bitter truth that most drought-affected villages in the country have learnt to live with. One such place where weather brings death news for debt-ridden farmers is Anantpur district in western Andhra Pradesh—an area famous for innumerable suicides stories.

“Because of too much heat the land is getting dried up. No crops can be grown and we are in debt. We tried all ancient methods and rituals but the Gods just don’t listen,” D Venkatnarayan, a farmer in Jakkalcheruvu village tells.

Similar is the story of 50-year-old Laxmi Devi. Her husband committed suicide by consuming pesticide, few years ago. He had borrowed money to dig borewells in their fields, but there was no water.

“There is no source of income for us, I have to look after my children. I don’t know how I will manage,” she said.

Anantapur is just one of the regions in Andhra Pradesh made infamous by farmers suicides. The reasons: inability to pay off debts, high input costs, switching crops, and of course persistent droughts. Studies indicate that the frequency of these droughts has been rising with each passing decade.

“In 2003 Andhra Pradesh witnessed 4,000 deaths due to extreme heat wave conditions. My fear is that the frequency of such heat waves will increase and we need to be prepared,” says R K Pachauri Director General, TERI

For the farmers of Anantapur, hope has all dried up, much like their fields.

Posted in Andhra Pradesh, Farmers Suicides | Leave a Comment »

YSR urged to press for interest waiver on loans

Posted by Ramoo on January 26, 2007…

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.

  • Posted in Andhra Pradesh, Debt burden, Farmers Suicides | 1 Comment »

    A harvest of despair

    Posted by Ramoo on January 26, 2007…

    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 pay 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.

    Posted in Andhra Pradesh, Debt burden, Farmers Suicides, Maharashtra, Opinion pieces | Leave a Comment »

    Suicidal tendency among the Indian farmers: How much we know about it

    Posted by Ramoo on January 24, 2007


    SuhanIndia is considered as a fast moving economy with good potentials in human development and massive industrial advancement. Despite this economic achievement, desperate farmers in some region s of the country are committing suicide with the hope of getting relief from their enormous debt and ill-fated life. It’s gradually turning into an epidemic in India, where farmers find themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty with frequent drought and but on the other hand the outside world sees India as the next Asian Tiger.

    Since 1997, more than 25,000 farmers have committed suicide across the country, many consuming the chemical that was supposed to make their crops more productive. Machinery, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and hybrid seeds , all of which originated in the West, on the contrary spell disaster here rather than prosperity as Indian farmers witness the other side of globalization very closely. The tragedy unfolds largely from crop failure, drought, pests, and pesticides that small farmers don’t have the means to face. The tendency is higher in Warangal District of Andhra Pradesh which is a suicide belt consisting districts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Apart from this region, Royalaseema, Anantapur, Vidarbha area in East Maharashtra and in certain other districts in northern Karnataka also face the tragedy.

    The government of India has taken decisions on macro-economic policies, approved plans for big dams, ports and roads, established Social Economic Zones, cut taxes on computer accessories, and undertaken big development projects. But these farmers got very little benefit from the government , as for they do not get what they actually need and deserve. The modest list of government’s response includes free electricity for agriculture, waiver of electricity dues and Rs.150, 000 as financial assistance for the relatives of the farmers who committed suicide in 2006 is in no way to redress the problems of the farmers.

    Government support price for the farmers is too low; a recent study done by the Government of Andhra Pradesh reported that more than 55 percent of the farmers are not getting the ‘Minimum Support Price’. For instance, In Anantapur district, about 90% of the holdings are small and marginal. They are under immense pressure owing to the vagaries of market and non-institutional forces that control credit and output. Most of the farmers are very much tied in the hands of the traders and middlemen who often take advantage of their poverty and desperation. This depresses the price that farmers should get for their output. Additionally, cost of cultivation has increased manifold since 1990s. In 2006, the government-sponsored cotton marketing federation purchased 13, 00,000 quintals of raw cotton from its 100-odd procurement centres, while the private traders have purchased 68,00,000 quintals till December 31. On the other hand, farmers in the region have produced over 220,00,000 raw cotton only in 2006. Poor farmers sometimes look for a helping hand from the agricultural or commercial banks; but these institutions give loan at very high interest rates and ask for collateral, which the farmers fail to produce.

    Several non-governmental organizations including banks, research centers are trying to implement strategies aiming at increasing these farmers’ income by 3 to 4 times through better co-ordination and synergizing the available resources. They through several studies found out that the government apathy, the absence of a safety net for farmers, lack of finance and lack of access to information related to agriculture are the major causes for the desperate condition of farmers.

    Less expensive, lower-risk organic farming methods might offer a solution for the cotton-growing crisis in India. But without a change in agriculture policy and practices, thousands more Indian farmers are likely to continue to take their own lives.

    ‘Fastest growing free market democracy’ a slogan that the Indians use to glorify them is not implacable for most of the Indians; 44% of the population still lives below the international standard of $1 per day, and as many as 86% live below $2 per day. It is probably necessary for the policy makers to go into the depth of the problem with an open mind and search for a genuine solution. More public and private investments in the rural areas along with introduction of micro-credit could be considered as a long term solution. Lowering interest rates will also be important to make cheaper credit available. Side by side, the government should take steps to make fertilizer, pesticide and seeds easily available to the poor and really deserving farmers. Free counseling to handle the problems and educating the farmers in modern methods of cultivation would definitely restore confidence among the farmers, which in turn would reduce the frustration among them. 

    Posted in Andhra Pradesh, Debt burden, Farmers Suicides, Maharashtra, Vidharba Crisis | Leave a Comment »