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.