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A hidden truth of farmer’s suicide

Posted by Ramoo on May 1, 2009


Ludhiana, A glaring and sad aspect of suicides in the agriculture sector in Punjab is that the families of the victims not only had to sell land, but also other assets such as farm machinery, gold to repay their debts.

A government-sponsored study conducted by Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) in Bathinda and Sangrur districts came across 2,990 suicides in the farm sector from 2000 to 2008. Of these, 1757 were farmers and the remaining farm labourers. Of these, 1288 farmers and 671 labourers ended their lives because of debts.

As many as 227 families in Bathinda district sold land worth Rs 7.36 crore to repay their debts. The average value of land sold was Rs 3.24 lakh.

In all 550 farmers committed suicide in Bathinda district due to debt. A majority of them (87 per cent) were small and marginal farmers owning land upto five acres while 13 per cent cases were reported among the medium and large farmers owning more than 10 acres.

The debt ranged from Rs two lakh to Rs 8.20 lakh in case of farmers who committed suicide.

In the case of Sangrur district, 738 farmers committed suicide owing to indebtedness. Of these, the families of 353 farmers sold land worth Rs 19.05 crore to pay off their debt.

The average debt burden in Sangrur was Rs 5.39 lakh. Besides, 58 families of these farmers sold even machinery and other assets.

In Sangrur, 57 per cent farmers were in the marginal category and 29 per cent were small scale farmers. The remaining 14 per cent were medium and large farmers.

The debt against them ranged from Rs 2.8 lakh to Rs 7.87 lakh in Sangrur district.

Average debt against labourers who committed suicide was Rs 70,036 in Sangrur district, and their average income was Rs 19,419.

The average debt against labourers who committed suicide in Bathinda was Rs 47,347 and their average income was Rs 21,710.

In Bathinda district, the most affected villages include Vhauke where 18 farmers ended their lives while in Mandi Kalan 17 farmers and in Pitho 13 farmers committed suicide.

In Sangrur district the most affected village were Andana where 18 suicides were reported followed by Bhutal Kalan (20), Seron (14), Bhattiwala Kalan (11) and Nagara (10).

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Farmer & Agricultural Labourers Suicides due to Indebtedness in the Punjab State — a pilot project of Sangrur and Bathinda districts

Posted by Ramoo on April 20, 2009

A Punjab Agricultural Univeristy report Farmer & Agricultural Labourers Suicides due to Indebtedness in the Punjab State — a pilot project of Sangrur and Bathinda districts, submitted to the Punjab government a few days back has sirred a political storm.
The survey report says that 2,990 farmers had committed suicide in two districts — 1256 in Bathinda and 1634 in Sangrur district — between 2000 and 2008. This report, more or less like a household census, is considered to be the first authentic survey of the spate of suicides among farmers and agricultural workers.
This report comes within a month of the Punjab government’s decision to fix a price for farmer suicides — Rs 2 lakh to the families of those farmers who have committed suicide in the past one year.
In Sangrur district, 738 farmers who took the fatal path to escape growing indebtedness, had an average outstanding debt of Rs 3.36 lakh per farmer. For another lot of 246 farmers who committed suicide for other reasons, the average outstanding amount standing against their name was Rs 79,935. As far as farm labourers are concerned, the average debt was Rs 70,036.
In Bathinda, the average outstanding due against farmers who could not sustain the growing indebtedness, was Rs 2.94 lakh. As many as 550 farmers belonged to this category. For another lot of 223 farmers who too committed suicide but for other reasons, the average outstanding debt was Rs 85,825. For the workers, the outstanding amount against their name was Rs 47,347 on an average. The report also provides a list of such households.
Meanwhile, another report in The Independent, London, says 1,500 farmers in Chattisgarh State have committed suicide. It blames crop failure and the falling water table to be responsible for the serial death dance. If this is true, I don’t see why the Punjab farmers, who are endowed with assured irrigation, have to commit suicide. That means lack of irrigation alone cannot be the reason. The PAU report blames growing indebtedness for the spate of suicides. Indebtedness comes from various reasons, and somehow I find we shirk from pointing to the real causes.
Reports about suicides in Vidharba belt in Maharashtra also ascribe it to lack of irrigation and distress sale of produce. While all this may be true, but I sometimes wonder why are we all reluctant to dig it deeper and find out the real causes that triggers indebtedness.

Devinder Sharma Groundreality

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Posted in Case studies, Data, Farmers Suicides, Punjab | Leave a Comment »

It’s high time farm pricing got a booster dose

Posted by Ramoo on September 26, 2008

Amrita ChaudhryPosted: Sep 26, 2008 at 0110 hrs IST

Ludhiana, September 25 With theWorld Bank giving a call to shift focus on agriculture to tackle food crisis, data gleaned from Punjab’s villages only add to its urgency.

The national census for the year 1991 showed Punjab as having 11 lakh farming families. Of these, 45 per cent were small or marginal farmers who owned fields measuring less than five acres. This figure in the next census in 2001 slid to 9.7 lakh and the percentage of small farmers to 30 per cent.

In other words, 30,000 farmers on an average quit agriculture each year. The primary reason for this has been the decline in profitability of crops, particularly paddy and wheat—a phenomenon that agricultural experts are trying to tackle along with suicides by farmers. For example, take the case of Gurdip Singh, a small farmer from village Mehla Kalan. Gurdip, who owns two acres of land, says, “I can just manage to raise food grains for my domestic use from these two acres.”

The situation of Avtar Singh, a farmer with 20 acres of land in Alamgir village, is no different. “My inputs costs over the years have skyrocketed while the prices of crops haven’t risen. And what we all forget is that farmer too is a consumer. I have to pay the college fees for my two children, which runs into lakhs per annum. Then there are the medical costs of my family.”

To drive home his point, Avtar Singh says, “A couple of years ago, one of my kidneys was damaged in an accident. I could not afford treatment. I know there will be a day when all my 20 acres will be lost in medical treatment.”

R S Sidhu, head, Department of Economics, Punjab Agricultural University, agrees as he explains, “The data speak so. The best period for agriculture in the recent past was between 1990 and 2000, more precisely till 1995. While the crisis in agriculture began around 1995, it was nationwide then. Now, however, Punjab alone is suffering. Our calculations have shown that while input costs have gone up dramatically, the rise in Minimum Statutory Price (MSP) of crops is very slow and this has resulted in reducing of profit margins for the farmers.

Sidhu adds, “Since 2001-2007 the input costs have risen by 8-9 per cent while the MSP growth has been hovering around 2 per cent. The wheat MSP announced this year (Rs 1,000 per quintal) had brought a relief for farmers and when the picture was easing out the latest news of Rs 850 as MSP for paddy this year is like a bolt from the blue.”

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Posted in Debt burden, Economix, Farm Income, Punjab | Leave a Comment »

Assault on farming: Punjab Government ties with Syngenta

Posted by Ramoo on September 17, 2008


Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Now it is understandable that government machinery in Punjab is more worried to offer market to MNCs rather then serving the genuine interests of farmers. Recently a Punjab government agency Markfed has signed a MoU with Syngenta to provide agrochemicals and its right practices on farmers’ doorstep.

This indicates that either the government officials do not have understanding of real crisis of farmers or they do not want to understand it. There is a strong third possibility also that Marked and its parent department wants to serve MNCs only sans the poor farmers.

Kheti Virasat Mission-KVM deplores this move of Markfed. The will prove a disaster for the farming and ecology of Punjab. This is an anti-farmer and anti-environment step and will jeopardize the possibilities of ecological sustainability of agriculture in Punjab. 

It is ironical that the Minister for Cooperation Capt Kanwaljit Singh was present in person in this MoU signing ceremony. This irony turned in to a tragedy when Minister speaking on the occasion urged the company to develop eco-friendly crop protection inputs. What an incident Capt Kanwaljit Singh is giving the responsibility of protecting ecology to a known environmental offender and poison merchant.

While speaking on the occasion Capt Kanwaljit asserted that ” The state is facing threat of disease due to overuse and misuse of pesticides, which is both unmanageable and unacceptable……so the need of hour is cutting costs and bringing in environment-friendly and safe methods of crop protection.”. It is a great statement indeed. But minister was betting on wrong side. Those who are known environmental scandalous cannot and should not be asked for environmental solutions. 

    The Markfed is more enthusiastic to serve MNCs and become their extension arm to market their products.  First it was Bt cotton in 2005. Then CM Capt Amarinder Singh very passionately makes Markfed the distributing arm of Mahyco for Bt cotton seeds. There was euphoria at that time and Markfed has published advertisements in newspaper singing happily about its achievement. Mahyco is a Monsanto owned company. 

After Monsanto now it is Syngenta.

Monsanto sold Bt cotton with a promise to reduce use of pesticides and now Syngents is entering with promise to provide extension services to farmers to educate them about right method of pesticide use. It is regrettable that government executives, agriculture experts and technocrats and departments dealing with agriculture or farmers particularly are still obsessed with the pesticides and their so-called safe use. They cannot think of agriculture without agrochemicals. After witnessing adverse impacts of pesticides several countries are now pursuing the pesticide free farming. There are several successful examples of chemical free natural / organic farming in the world, in India and even in Punjab. 

Chemical pesticides were pushed in indiscriminately. Forty years after the advent of green revolution, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Manila, Philippines now clearly accepts its mistakes in promoting pesticides and has gone on record saying that ‘pesticides were a waste of time and effort’ in Asia for rice. Punjab Agricultural University however continues to push in pesticides knowing well that these were not required in the first place. In case of cotton, agricultural scientists have compounded the problem by turning the insect profile hostile. There were only six or seven pests that worried the cotton farmers in the 1960s. Today the number of cotton pests has multiplied to over 60.

Studies done by ICRISAT and IRRI clearly demonstrate the sustainability, viability and successful economics of Non-Pesticide Management practices. Farmers in Bangladesh, Philippines and Vietnam have successfully opted for pesticide free rice cultivation. The Cuba has also shown the way. Former Director General of IRRI, Dr. Robert Cantrell had this to say: “It shows that the mistakes of Green Revolution where too much emphasis was sometimes put on the use of chemicals for pest control have clearly been recognized and corrected”.

But irony of Punjab is that the agriculture establishments are not open to this truth of pesticides and even they are not tolerant to any question and debate related to pesticides and environmental health crisis. They are still in green-revolution mindset and insulated from alternative paradigm for sustainable agriculture, environment and development. The agriculture establishments feel honour of their role played in green revolution, it could be their proud. They already got pat for that, they earned whole lot of admiration for the work they had done, but now it is time to have an honest introspection and constructive criticism. Those who are supported Green Revolution setups until now should own responsibility of its adverse effects.

The Markfed and Ministry of Cooperatives should open to know more about the alternative paradigm of agriculture, they should came forward  to learn from the farmers committed to ecological practices. Capt Kanwaljit rightly raise the issue of rising cost of production and depleting returns ,but he should be aware of the fact that every village is exporting cash roughly something between Rs  25 lakhs to 5 crors , depending upon its area, cropping pattern and ecological factors. If the minister is really sincere in saving and serving farmers he and his department should encourage natural farming. We should proudly shout -“Say No to Pesticides”. It is only way to save ecology of Punjab, it is only way to bring Punjab out of devastating environmental health crisis. 

Punjab government has no vision, no roadmap for restructuring agriculture to make its agriculture ecologically sustainable. Neither they have any plan to learn from farmers nor do they want to promote any civil society initiative in this regard. Government is just promoting corporate model of farming. This is symbol of intellectual impoverishment and bankruptcy of thoughts and ideas.    

Syngenta is also known for hiding facts related to adverse effects of its bestseller herbicide Atrazine. The scientists working on test the effects of Atrazine on African clawed frogs found that Atrazine inhibits development of the larynx in male frogs at low doses, that Atrazine, at even lower doses, feminizes male frogs by altering the testes so they will produce eggs. Syngenta even tried to purchase the silence from the concerned scientists.  

Pesticides are only one side of coin of doom, the Genetically Modified seeds are waiting to spill the new era of sorrow.  Syngenta will use this MoU to create market for its GM seeds. The company is trying to get proper IPR protection for its seeds. Syngenta has done a day light robbery on rice.  This Swiss biotech giant based at Basel in Switzerland, has tightened its monopoly control over rice. Seeking global patents over thousands of genes in rice (a single grain of rice contains 37,544 genes, roughly one-fourth more than the genes in a human body), the multinational giant is all set to “own” rice, the world’s most important staple food crop. Syngenta claims it invented more than 30,000 gene sequences of rice. Syngenta in collaboration with Myriad Genetics Inc of USA had beaten Monsanto in the game of mapping the genetic structure of rice by sequencing more than 99.5 per cent of the rice genome. Syngenta’s efforts to seek control over rice have severe implications for the future of rice research and its resulting impact on food security and hunger. For countries like India or Japan, one of the seats of origin of rice, it is an ominous sign. In other words, biological inheritance of the world’s major food crop is now in the hands of a Swiss multinational. If Syngenta’s application for global patents is accepted, the Asian countries will lose all control that comes through ‘sovereign’ control over genetic resources (as defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity, 1992) of the staple grain.

Syngents is going to bring its GM seeds with in next few years; the company is preparing its market network from now courtesy Markfed.

Marked is working like Mir Jafar for MNCs which is highly intolerable. This MoU will prove battle of Plassey and will pave way for total corporate takeover of Punjab agriculture. Those who are signing these documents should prepare them selves to be known as Mir Jafars. History will teach then a lesson.

It is high time that farmers of Punjab should resist and revolt against this onslaught on their sovereign right over natural resources and knowledge system.

(Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission civil society ecological action group based at Jaitu town in Faridkot district, Punjab. Phone: 9872682161, E-mail:

Posted in Agri-Toxins, MNCs, Pesticides, Punjab | Leave a Comment »

11782 farmers commit suicide: Report

Posted by Ramoo on March 21, 2007

Parliament of India…
New Delhi: Asking states to abrogate a law that provides for arrest of defaulting farmers, a Parliamentary Committee on Tuesday said the suicide of 11,782 farmers during last five years is attributable to distress sale of their produce and continuous crop failures. “The Committee is shocked to learn that in some states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, there is a law to arrest farmers who default in repayment of loans. Moreover, they are not only kept in jail but the expenditure incurred on their food, transport and others things in jail is also said be to recovered from them”, the report tabled in Parliament said. The Standing Committee on Agriculture, headed by Ram Gopal Yadav, observed that the Agriculture Minister in a letter to the Chief Ministers of Bihar, Jharkhand, Kerala, Orissa, Punjab and UP in April 2006 had taken up the matter of review of state laws to remove the provision for arrest and detention of farmers.

“The last letter (to states) for amending the relevant state laws was issued on August 12, 2005, and it seems that the government has no will to act but is only performing the duty of a postman in a way, that based on the recommendations of the Committee, a letter is written to the states to do the needful”, it said. Stating that the farmers have not got their full dues, the Committee said they have to sell their produce at very low rates and are not able to repay their debts due to drought and continuous crop failures. “Under the circumstances, the only escape route for them is to commit suicide. Thus, in the last five years, as per the records of Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, about 11,782 farmers have ended their lives out of frustration and humiliation”, the report added. (PTI)

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

Farmers find their voice in ‘Chamber of Punjab Farmers’

Posted by Ramoo on March 9, 2007…

Amrita Chaudhry

Ludhiana, March 8: FOR long, it has been the industry that has been the engine of policy making. From taxation to excise, the industry takes care of all sectors. Even the agriculture sector gets its policies designed by industrialists, who have little clue about the socio-economic fabric of agriculture. But all this will change, at least in Punjab, where farmers have a formal platform, “Chamber of Punjab Farmers”, as their spokesperson.

It has been six months now that this chamber came into being and after the initial teething troubles, it has started to make its presence felt on the state scene.


Avtar Singh Dhindsa, well-known progressive farmer and a floriculturist who is the first president of this chamber, explained, “We are the CII for the farmers. We needed this platform as even agriculture policies were being devised by the CII, while it should have been the other way around. Apart from this, our main objective is to restore the lost dignity of Punjabi farmers.”

Armed with some of the leading agriculture brains of the state, the chamber has embarked upon a Herculean task. “Our first task is to see that the farmers get the payment for their produce. There is no trade in the world where the producer is not paid. In our case, it is the commission agents who get the money. For this, we have already filed a PIL in the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the court in turn has asked the state to reply on the issue,” said Dhindsa.

He added, “Another important issue is that we make agriculture sustainable. And for this while we have a whole battery of scientists, we need to do more. The chamber has planned a series of guest lectures where we will invite speakers like Dr Vandana Shiva, etc. At least let us hear what they have to say. If we like their model of sustainable agriculture, we will adopt it. The idea is that we have to broaden our vistas of knowledge.”

“Then there are many issues that the government is reluctant to speak on, such as farmer suicides, farmer indebtedness, increase in income of farmers and so on. It is these issues that we will design a policy for the state government. From now on, we farmers, too, will have a pressure group in the form of this chamber, which will help voice their concern directly and not through the industry,” he said.

The melting pot of the chamber is the 11-member executive body which includes some well-known names like dairy farmer Daljit Singh, potato growers Sukhbir Singh Bhatti and Jang Bahadur Singh Sangha, just to name a few.

When asked if this chamber was yet another club of elite farmers of the state, Dhindsa remarked, “We have progressive farmers on board, as after all they have struggled to reach where they are today. As a farmer myself, I know where it hurts and I am constantly in touch with the small farmers around me. We are a community and we are bound by our problems. Thus this chamber is no elitist group but a voice of the Punjab farmers.”

Posted in Farmers Suicides, Punjab | Leave a Comment »

Task ahead for new government: Green agenda for sustainable Punjab

Posted by Ramoo on March 3, 2007

By Umendra Dutt

03 March, 2007

The SAD-BJP government has assumed office in Punjab. Obviously the new government will announce its plan with in few days. These elections were fought on the issue of development. It is a fashion to brand every economic and construction activity –the development. The development has become very catchy phrase these days. Every body talks about development, but despite being known as developed state Punjab is experiencing the burns of this so-called development. It is one of most debt ridden state; it has witnessed thousands of farmers’ suicides, its environment is one of most degraded, it has almost lost its precious wealth of natural resources, it is in midst of the most severe environmental health crisis in the world. Ironically this developed state was the first where indebted villages had put themselves on sale.

And yet the our planners and politicians are mesmerized to develop further more on the same lines without any corrections in line of action, without analyzing the errors in the developmental path, without any kind of review and evaluation that what went wrong where and how? There is still a chouse about what should be the development path for Punjab. And notwithstanding the adversities of the unsustainable development, nature abusive agriculture systems and perishable growth model there is no discussion on corrective measures.

The SAD-BJP government has taken the reins at a very crucial juncture; the new government can play a historic role by evolving a Green Agenda for Sustainable Punjab. The new government should demonstrate that it is highly concerned about the ecological and agricultural catastrophe leading to farmer’s suicides, depleting natural resources, degraded environment, and intense environmental health crisis posing a serious socio-economic and ecological challenge to the state. The new government should resolve to adopt the green agenda for a sustainable Punjab with an imperishable prosperity which will be free of debt, suicides, displacement and diseases caused due to environmental discrepancy.

The first step in this direction the new government can take is that it should bring out its ‘Vision for Sustainable Punjab’ with in minimum stipulated time. The vision paper should target the issue of ecological and agricultural sustainability of Punjab. This vision paper should be widely circulated in public for discussions to evolve a road map for sustainable agriculture, sustainable development and sustainable environment. After all only this kind of sustainability can assure sustainable prosperity to the Punjab. The new government should resolve to make this commitment an agenda for each and every citizen of Punjab . Actually there should be a political and social consensus on this Green Agenda so that this ought to be a participatory action.

Secondly, another new initiative the SAD-BJP government should take on priority bases is formation of ‘Punjab State Environment Commission’ as a statuary body with Chief Minister as its Chairman. The proposed Environment Commission will be first of its kind in India. The Environment Commission shall protect the environmental rights of people of Punjab to get clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, beautiful, historical, esthetic, cultural and spiritual values of the environment. It will also monitor the environmental duties to be obeyed by the people, as natural resources of Punjab are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. The present generation is mere trustee and as trustees of these resources it is their duty to conserve them for coming generations.

Then another important issue is to establish Cancer Hospital in Malwa region. The new government is bound to do this as this was promised by Akali Dal in its election manifesto. Beside this cancer hospital the new government should take the care of entire environmental health scenario in Punjab. As cancer is only one aspect of environmental health catastrophe, there are other dimensions also to this crisis. There is urgent need to establish Punjab Institute for Environmental Health Research and Studies in Malwa region. The proposed institute should be headed by an eminent environmental epidemiologist of the international repute and exposure. The institute shall have Regional Centers in various regions of the State. Then, another most important step the SAD-BJP government must take is to undertake a widespread and multicentric environmental epidemiological mapping through an extensive study and participatory research . This study is already recommended by PGIMER –PPCB study on cancer, interestingly the previous government had put all recommendations in dust bin only. The new government can take lead in this issue. This study must be entrusted to the proposed Institute for Environmental Health Research.

The Environmental health crisis with such intensity ,can only be mitigate by large scale community intervention and participation thus the new government should form a Environmental Health Mitigation Task Force under the aegis of Institute for Environmental Health with majority participation from NGOs and farmer groups. A senior Epidemiologist or Environmentalist should head this task force with powers minimum of the secretary rank to the Government. This task force would be constituted by taking members from medical fraternity, social activists, and teachers of life sciences, farmers and experts from various governmental departments.

The south western Malwa is facing most severe environmental health crisis. This entire area should be treated as the toxic hot spot. To focus its efforts government must declared and imposed immediately the state of ecological and environmental health emergency in the entire belt. For this specially drawn plans are needed with specific focus on the natural and organic farming, with adequately allocated funds for the targeted problem.
The agriculture of Punjab needs a fresh vision for its sustainability as well as sustainability of natural resources. To take up this issue with urgent priority the SAD-BJP government should formulate a policy and action plan with a fixed time frame to promote sustainable agricultural practices and various eco-friendly methods of farming. Special budget allocations should be made available for the purpose. There should be a bottom-up formulation of a coherent Sustainable Agriculture Policy for the state of Punjab . This should have a pro-organic stance.

The SAD-BJP government should evolve special support systems to promote sustainable agriculture practices of natural and organic farming. The government should take lead to implement the recommendations made by Task Force on Organic Farming headed by Dr. Kunwarji Bhai Jadav constituted by NDA government in centre, which brought out its report in November 2001. The implementation of these recommendations shall become an instrument to empower farmers and local economy.

The new government should provide incentives to farmers for community level production and supply of natural and organic inputs and produce as it is offered by some other states. The Government should also make sure that farmers get proper price for their natural and organic produce. Of course there is Punjab State Organic Farming Council is already working in this direction. But, its entire thrust is export orientated certainly it will not benefited the farmers of Punjab. More there is wider question that is pesticide free produce is only meant for foreign markets? Do the ordinary citizen of Punjab not have right to get pesticide free stuff? When the data from All India Coordinated Research Project on Pesticidal Residue clearly indicates presence of DDT, HCH and BHC in cereals, milk, butter, fruits, vegetables and even infant formula samples from Punjab and the edibles have residues of other pesticides like Phosphamidon, Quinalphos, Chlorpyriphos, Endosulfan, Malathion, Parathion, Monocrotophos and lindane it is a alarm bell for a devastation in offing. More over the presence of pesticides in blood as detected by Centre for Science and Environment also raises serious questions. CSE report states the presence of cocktail of 6 to 13 pesticides in blood samples. CSE also find organo-chlorine and residues of the newer and so-called ‘non-persistent’ pesticides – organophosphates in blood. This situation demands that pesticide free food must be first offered to Punjabi people, but Organic Farming Council of Punjab has no vision and commitment in this regard. The new government should take initiative to revamp and reconstitute the organic farming council.

The SAD-BJP government can set an example for rest of country by establishing an autonomous Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in Punjab headed by a person with vast experience in natural and organic farming practices. This institute should be autonomous in working, policy formulations and adoption of techniques. The institute shall be guided by a governing Council drawing experts and practicing farmers from all over the country. This council shall have representation from the civil society organizations and practicing organic and natural farmers with a bottom up approach.

The SAD-BJP government must show its deep committed to the welfare of farmers and should ensure farmers a proper take home salary. For this purpose the government has to constitute an ‘Income Commission for Farmers’. Eminent agriculture policy expert Dr Davinder Sharma has already put forward this concept on various forums.

As Punjab has suffered the most severe ecological crisis, thus it needs a paradigm shift to save from ecological suicide. Let be there first ever ecological audit to seek an analysis on ecological condition of Punjab. A high power working group has to be constituted by involving independent experts to take up this study. This group must be free from green revolution mindset. This is indeed very important to get a clear picture of ecological damages and hence to evolve a strategy for ecological revival and environmental sustainability of the Punjab.

Other critical issue of ecological sustainability is crisis of water resources. Depletion and contamination of water resources and providing safe potable water to the people is one of the most sought after task for the new government in Punjab. The water crisis in Punjab is escalating day by day. In 1984 there were 53 blocks as dark zones, in 1995 they were 84 and in 2005 the figure went up to 108 out of total 138 development blocks in Punjab. Ground water level falling much faster then assumed. In 1973 only 3% area of Punjab has water table below 10 meters, it goes up to 14.9% in 1989, 20% in 1992, and 28% in 1997, 53% in 2000, 76% in 2002 and in 2004 the situation goes beyond expectations when 90% area of Punjab is drawing water from the depth of more then 10 meters. More over 30% area of Punjab has depth of 20 meters or even more. In 1980 there are 3712 villages identified as drinking water problem villages, this figure went up to 6287 in 1990, and then in year 2000 the number goes as high as 8518 and as of now 11849 villages or habitations out of total 12423 in Punjab are facing drinking water problems.

It is high time to save every drop of water by a participatory community action. Punjab has sufficient amount of rain fall and harnessing the rain water shall revive its empty ground water aquifers. More over the traditional water wisdom could provide potable water to large number of villages in Malwa, where water scarcity has brought doom for the villagers.

The SAD-BJP government should make rain water harvesting mandatory in whole of Punjab accept the areas under water logging. To administer this community led initiative, ‘Save Water Mission’ should be formed with large scale membership of community groups. An advisory board drawing water experts and water warriors from all over India shall be constituted to steer the proposed Save Water Mission.

Environmental crises are to be dealt holistically, with inter disciplinary interventions and multisectorial approach with large scale community participation in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. ‘Unidirectional and de-bureaucratized’ earnest effort is urgently needed to take up environmental conservation to bring Punjab out of present ecological catastrophe. This is the need of the hour to ensure safe and sustainable future of coming generations of Punjab.

Viewing this problem the SAD-BJP government should initiate a state level water conservation drive with all inclusive community participation. The state government must formulate a time bound action plan to rejuvenate the old and to build new water bodies across the Punjab by involving Panchayati Raj Institutions, civic bodies, farmers and farmers groups, village youth clubs, civil society groups, religious and social organizations, educational institutes and various governmental departments. Will the new government make river action plan after learning lessons from innovative initiative of rejuvenating Kali Bain rivulet by Sant Balbir Singh Sencheewal? Government should come forward with a concrete action plan to revive all rivulets and ensure pollution free flow of its rivers.

Lastly the most important aspect of water conservation is State Water Policy. The Punjab has a draft water policy from last two years and it has to be finalized. But, this draft is totally based on National Water Policy which very much corporate oriented. The new government of Punjab should dare to take a bold decision to redraft state water policy very mush in accordance with water heritage, ethos and values of Punjab. The government should immediately call open dialogue on water policy and must circulate the present draft for wider public participation in water governance.

These are few urgent task chalked could be part of Green Agenda for Sustainable Punjab. Would the new government show its commitment for Environmental justice to all living beings and sustainability of natural resources?

The Punjab is awaiting the government that dare to take up the challenge of paradigm shift.

Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission. Jaitu, Faridkot district based environmental NGO in Punjab . Phone: 9872682161, E-mail:

The Kheti Virasat Mission – KVM

The KVM is a nor for profit conscious civil society organization established in March 2005 and registered as a charitable trust with head office at Jaitu town of district Faridkot.

KVM is working in the field of natural farming, sustainable agriculture, conservation of natural resources, environmental health and eco-sustainable technologies.

Posted in Opinion pieces, Policy issues, Punjab | 1 Comment »

Burden of credit for Punjab farmers

Posted by Ramoo on February 20, 2007

Arijit Barman…


Posted Tuesday , February 20, 2007 at 20:03

Updated Tuesday , February 20, 2007 at 20:41

Stats show an average farming family in Punjab has more to repay than families anywhere else in India.

LOAN MOAN: Stats show an average farming family in Punjab has more to repay than families anywhere else in India.

Punjab: Naseeb Kaur is a widow. Her husband committed suicide almost a decade ago, to escape the Rs 7 lakh debt burden.

Kaur managed to marry off three of her daughters, but in the bargain, she had to part with the one hectare acre land she owned for she had to give that as dowry.

Today, her daily existence is a continuous struggle and the debt the last thing on her mind.

“There is no help from the government and the elections do not hold any meaning for me,” says she.

The fruits of India’s growing economy are yet to reach her family and also many other families in Punjab. But why is this happening?

Says CRRID’s Dr S Singh, “This is happening because these people first take loans and then when they cannot repay them, they take more loans. It becomes a vicious cycle and then they cannot get out of it. The money that they receive is not enough.”

Apart from this, the loan money is often used for purposes other than farming and the Punjab Farmer’s Commission is worried to say the least.

Says member Punjab Farmer’s Commission, Dr Kalkat, “The farmers spend the money on weddings etc. which needs to be stopped at once.”

Punjab for many, may be the poster boy of the Green revolution, but government data shows that an average farming family in that state has more to repay than any other family anywhere else in India.

  • For farmers with land holdings less than 0.1 hectare, the average outstanding amount is around Rs 6,000. In Punjab, the average is around Rs 9,000.
  • For those who own between one and two hectares of land, this figure is Rs 14,000 for rest of India and Rs 28,000 for Punjab.
  • For farmers with more than 10 hectares of land, rest of India’s debt stands at Rs 77,000 while in Punjab, it’s more than Rs 2.5 lakh.

The aam admi’s Government is keen on providing economic relief to the farmers by giving them credit through rural banks, but for the farmer stuck in a vicious cycle, the path to a virtuous cycle is almost an impossibility and suicides are often the only way out.

So there might be a package to serve credit needs, especially of small and marginal farmers, but the burden of debt continues to be oppressive and in the hinterland of Punjab it’s just another day for Naseeb Kaur.

Posted in Farmers Suicides, Punjab | Leave a Comment »

Punjab and Gujarat-Rich states, rich politicians, poor track records, negative images

Posted by Ramoo on February 19, 2007…

The NDTV show on the Punjab farmer’s suicides came as a rude shock! The heart-breaking scenes, the tears and misery of the women who lost their husbands were too much to bear viewing for long. Yet, the feature did a great national service for highlighting what is held back from the public view the many contradictions and distortions that have come to characterise Punjab agriculture.

What was often highlighted, made great public displays in the newspapers and TV channels is the Bharti Mittal’s Wal-Mart foray or Pepsi Company’s entry into the agri sector. The Green Revolution creates a false image and that false image had stuck in public memory, thanks to the over-zealous publicity-seeking agri scientists turned propagandists and apologists for the Central Government.

The old Punjab that went on to make the Green Revolution such a grand success is now gone. Forever, it seems. The new Punjab is altogether a different story, a difficult story. Did anyone tell you that Punjab tops the chart in per capita farmers’ debt? No. Did anyone tell you that Punjab’s social sector indicators, maternal mortality, infanticide and other social ills far outpaces other less “developed” states? No, not likely.

Yes, there are serious issues in the new Punjab’s agri sector. There is this new phenomenon of farmers suicides, uneconomic land holdings, farmers-turned migrants, in search of livelihood and honour by the poor farmers who have been totally left behind by the new generation of politicians, who are all now crorepatis and they have now come out with a vengeance, as in the latest Assembly elections to win power, by using all the highhanded methods! It is also dynastic rule in Punjab, taking acute from New Delhi; it is Badal vs Amarinder Singh, two of the richest families of Punjab, all in the name of development vs religious, ethnic identity!

Punjab and Gujarat are always considered top states in terms of critical development indicators. Punjab is the granary of India, along with Haryana and Western UP. Its agricultural performance was always considered world class until recently when the problems of soil salinity and water logging and declining productivity and all India per capita farm debts created many doubts about the future of Punjab agriculture.

Gujarat is always outwitting other states in terms of drawing record investments. Punjab was always the agricultural pioneer, thanks to the Bhakra-Nangal dam and the management of inter-state river waters. So too now Gujarat with its record hitting Narmada dam that serves so many states and also seeing such persistent protests over the rehabilitation of the displaced people. May be this is a new phenomenon in the post-Nehru era of managing the inter-state river waters on such large scale. Times change and we have to welcome changes and as far as agriculture’s future is concerned we can’t be dogmatic when it comes to sharing the inter-state waters or utilising the precious natural resources for the maximum benefit to the entire country. In this context the recent Cauvery River waters award too has to be seen in the national context, the few persisting issues have to be negotiated in a spirit of give and take and there can’t be any more politics of the narrow king in such matters that has direct bearing on the poverty and prosperity of the common man.
Gujarat and Punjab have so many lessons in development and also in terms of the quality of state politics.  Punjab CM, Capt.Amarinder Singh has given out his thoughts on the eve of the Assembly elections and the sort of candidates, fielded by various parties, also give an indication of the sort of politics the state is to have for some more years to come. Most of the candidates are found wanting when it comes to probity in public life. Some of the richest men and women candidates are in the field. The cursory look at their declaration of personal wealth shows that it is all rich men and women’s game, this democratic politics at the beginning of the new century. Some of the prominent politicians, some 10 among them, have declared a personal wealth of Rs.39 crore (CM) to 30 crores to way down to 1.44 crores.

Luckily most of them have no criminal records, though a few do. As for the Akali Dal, it is again a rich men and women’s club. The top candidate is rich by 89 crores and also faces murder charges! The next rich starts with Rs.54 crores to Prakash Singh Badal, the former CM and a powerful figure declaring Rs.13 crores as his wealth, though many dispute this figure. His son, another Badal is rich by 9.4 crore, a Bar-at-law, is said to be the richest among the lot in the party.

Criminal records low but corruption charges high among the candidates. There are more crorepatis in the Akali party, though Congress candidates don’t lag behind when it comes to crorepatis. Even the Dalit candidates are wealthy, the wealthiest declaring an asset of Rs.6 crores. Land mafia, dynastic candidates, crorepati politicians, landlords, barons, big-ticket NRIs, transport tycoons, liquor giants and traders are the common descriptions for the candidates. Among the 26 reserved seats for Dalits, there are 27 crorepatis. Women candidates make for interesting reading. The richest is worth 90 crores. Another top five crorepatis among the women candidates. Badal is alleged to possess wealth to the tune of Rs. 3,500 crores, alleged by the CM whose palace is valued only at Rs. 35 crores spread over 32 acres at the heart of Patiala. Yet, Badal, the senior has declared that the only vehicle he owns is a second hand tractor!

Says the CM:”70 per cent of Punjabis are under 40 years; they look to the future with much fear, as there is no worthwhile development, as seen under the Aakali rule. Development has become the most central issue in this election, thanks to the Congress rule putting development as the main issue before the people of Punjab”. The CM alleges that “the Akalis had never gone beyond Aurangazeb in their speeches”.

Chandigarh, the newly built capital must belong to Punjab and Haryana must build its own capital, says the CM, the Chandigarh issue is a hot emotional issue. Questions of Sikh identity are another contentious issue, who can deliver it? Congress or the Akalis?

The new agenda of development is the one route to regain the Punjabi identity, through more development and the promise of realising the aspirations of the younger generation. The religious symbols are again a current issue, the Heritage Memorial, free access to Nankana Sahib and other holy sites. The CM promised to tackle unemployment, bring in one lakh crores worth of new investment, to generate 20 lakh new jobs. “Unemployment will not be an issue for several coming generations”! This in itself is a Punjabi style grand gesture! Politics in Punjab has always been a grand gesture of sorts, in all extremes, the Punjab milancy itself is an outcome of such grand standing and vague emotions creating so much tensions and upheavals.
Punjab has many border districts and wars and the peace are the constant themes. Now, with war receding from public domian, there is talk of peace and opening of the routes towards more trade with Pakistan.
Narendra Modi, on the other hand, has claimed a record investment and he says his state scores over other states in all development parameters. The Godhra arson is very much in the background, though those horrible days remain in public memory to give the state a negative image. Lately, he was in the news when his name was dropped from the BJP executive committee. Modi nursed the Prime ministerial ambitions and the latest move has come as a shock to his many admirers. It was widely expected that Modi, along with Arun Jaitley would lead the 2009 Lok Sabha election campaign. He drew the loudest applause during the party’s Lucknow national executive last December.

Mr.Narendra Modi, the incumbent Chief Minister of Gujarat, by all accounts, is the most powerful politician in the BJP party, though now his wings are sought to be clipped. Even after the approval of the RSS and the senior leaders, Vajpayee and Advani who suspect that Modi might outplay them when the time comes in Delhi, he still remains the most powerful man in Gujarat, his hold on the political and the administrative machinery is unchallenged. It is widely felt that he is the only one BJP, or suffron, leader who can win a record number of MPs from the state, very similar to what Kalyan Singh did in his best days in Lucknow. When Singh won 50 MP seats in two consecutive elections. This ropetrick, Modi only can do now, if at all. In that case, his role in the “selection” of the next Prime Minister would be crucial. Vajpayee and Advani still entertain prime ministerial ambitions. But among the next line of leaders, it is only Modi who has the mass base, despite the debacle of the party in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.

So, how to judge Modi? An asset or a liability?

Certainly, Modi is a doer. His track record on the economic front is impressive. He asserts that Gujarat can achieve an 11 per cent rate of growth. The Centre is aiming a rate of 9.2 per cent. Says the CM: “Gujarat needs to generate unprecedented growth. In agriculture, manufacturing and services, human resources. We are ready for that“. Is this the CM who indulged in such communal flareup that the outside world condmened, India earned such a bad name?

The state has organised “Vibrant Gujarat” biennial summit thrice and attracted an astounding 140 b dollar in investment proposals. Creating infrastructure with global benchmarks, create a level playing field for global players. Even the investors speak of the professional approach, no politics, no bureaucratic delays etc. Rs.4, and 61,835 crores investment represents 1.3 million jobs! Over 80 per cent of the proposals, investments in the last two years have been implemented, says the CM.

Gujarat agriculture and coastline based industries, salt and chemical industries are all well-known and so too the entrepreneurial culture of the public.

So, we have to weigh the plus and minus points. Farmers’ suicides have come from Punjab and Gujarat too! The social evils like infanticide, women’s oppression in Punjab and Gujarat’s communal track record is simply abysmal. But given the total neglect and insensitivity of the politicians in other states, for the agri sector’s depressing scenario, Punjab and Gujarat, at least should give us hope for more innovative agri sector initiatives.

Punjab’s water scarce cotton belt had seen farmers’ suicides and farmers migration to Rajasthan and Gujarat. Yes, there is also the story that owing to good monsoon there is the higher yield of indigenous BT cotton seeds brought in from Gujarat. The CM’s role in terminating the inter-state agreement on the sharing of the waters of the Ravi, the Beas and the Sutlej among Punjab, Haryana, HP and Rajasthan saved water for the Malwa cotton belt. The growing unemployment, consumption of smuggling liquor and opium is also a social problem.

Punjab and Haryana always played a critical role in arm-twisting the Centre to get the best deal for farmers, MSP etc and thus Punjab and also Gujarat have a critical role to play in the new century’s agricultural strategies and policies.

Posted in Blogs, Farmers Suicides, Opinion pieces, Policies, Punjab | 3 Comments »

Sorrow tale of Jajjal: the village cursed by cancer

Posted by Ramoo on February 14, 2007

By Umendra Dutt

14 February, 2007

It is going to be five years that Jajjal village earned fame in media and administration. In 2002 when for the first time a retired government teacher Jarnail Singh bring out the issue of abnormally high incidences of cancer deaths in Jajjal and some adjoining villages. Till then village has witnessed about 20 cancer deaths and several new cancer cases. This small village has 500 odd households with population of 3500. There is no respite for the Jajjal residents. During last five years several experts and study teams from across the country visited the village, the surveys was done and stories were appeared in news papers or aired in news channels. But the sufferer villagers got nothing. If ask villagers about what they got in last five years, you will get an answer with anguish – nothing, accept some visiting cards of media persons, government officials and doctors. We only become infamous for cancer, it is becoming all most a stigma for most of us, says a villager Jaswinder Singh.

It was unfortunate that the Jajjal village and villagers were at the brink of collapse as the high debts, unfit water, dwindling social structures, different types of cancer, male and female reproductive problems, neurological problems, huge expenditures on the treatments, deaths and suicides are all common things. One after the other deaths has wrecked the villagers. Majority of the people do not want to talk about the cancer. Even cancer patients do not talk about the disease but simply say that they went to the ” Bikaner’ which is self explanatory and every body knows the meaning. There is no governmental or other wise good cancer treatment facility in the area like one in Bikaner. People fear that the treatment cost shall be very high once the cancer is declared and they don’t go for a cancer checkup, as they think that the family members shall become worried about the expanses.

Punjab government has made several declarations about cancer, but practically very little was done so far. Take the case of financial relief to the cancer patients. Despite all assurances and declarations only three families got financial relief of Rs 22,500 /- each. Where as village have at least 55 cancer deaths on record. The pathetic condition is so worst that in some families, cancer has ruined the entire family and money. Cancer has taken away our near and dear ones along with our money and savings we had done in decades. We had lost our relatives as well as our prosperity, says a young man. According to a snap survey by a team of Kheti Virasat Mission, 48 cancer cases were reported. 36 persons were died due to cancer where as 10 others are still battling for their life.

The cancer victims in Jajjal are facing multiple crises. Every cancer affected family owns debt of one to three lakh at least. But some are worst victims. Cancer does not make difference between rich and poor, land owner and land less laborer. The death is knocking the doors after door, ruining the families, social system and economy of the Jajjal.

The doom is very cruel as it is coming in many ways and is not sparing the elders or new born. Take the case of Kartar Kaur, this 90 plus years old mother lost her three sons one by one due to cancer in front of her eyes. The deadly cancer had snatched her son Choota Singh (45 years) in 2002, Balbir Singh (60 years) in 2003 and then Jalore Singh (45 years) in 2005. The family has taken debt of Rs Nine lakhs for treatment, and after losing three brothers, now family owns debt of Rs six lakhs. It is despite the fact that the family has sold its tractor and some other moveable things. Ironically till date this family got Rs 22,000 as aid and relief from the Government. Today Kartar Kaur is living with her grand sons and three widowed daughter in laws. This is the orphaned childhood due to the violence of environmental toxicity. Who is going to take responsibility for this?

The cruelty of cancer is really heart frightening. Now meet Manish an infant of only two years who is suffering from cancer by birth. His father Tarsem is a daily wager. The abnormally enlarged head of Manish is telling that, some thing is seriously wrong, the boy can not move on his own. His father has already taken loan of Rs 25,000. Tarsem and his wife both are laborers; they had to go for work in near by town of Rama Mandi. This dalit couple is spending hard earned money to save their only child. Manish is called to be future of his poor parents, at the age of two he does not know what has happened with him. He cannot even imagine what hardship his parents are facing. The poor child cannot move, not even toddle. He cannot play with toys. His father knows that Manish’s life is limited he want to give his child more better treatment but he can’t afford. Even he cannot borrow more because no body will give him loan beyond a limit, as he has no land to mortgage. After all money lender want to confirm that from where this labourer return the loan money. Manish cannot treat properly with this limitation. There are many more Tarsem and Manish in whole of Malwa.

Jagdev Singh age 14 was a healthy boy upto the age of 9, but gradually he become handicap and now he is on wheel chair, he can not speak nor does he do any thing on his own. His father Bholla Singh has done best of his efforts but Jagdev remain on wheel chair only. The cancer has snatched smile from the villagers. One daily wager whose 22 year old wife is suffering from cancer is not willing to tell her the truth, of fear that she might loose heart. If a family member suffers from the deadly dieses others tries to hide this heartless fact.

Cancer has ruined the prosperity of even those, who got their cancer cured with expensive treatment. Now 70 year old Mukhtiyar Singh, who got his cancer affected kidney operated, was forced to sell tractor and piece of land to meet expenditure of treatment. But he still owns debt of Rs two lakhs. Mukhtiyar Singh says we are just curtailing our needs, we cook vegetable once a day and take the meals thrice a day with that only. This is the condition of the so called state number one.

Cancer is only one aspect of Jajjal’s eclipsed fate. Today Jajjal is also facing very severe problem of reproductive health. KVM volunteers also came across numerous incidents those are quite upsetting. Then you can find large number of youth having grey hairs. Joint pain and spinal problems are making youths of village older then their age. Skin disease is another blot. These environmental health problems have become so usual that now villagers had accepted it as their fate. However the politicians and bureaucrats do not pay the requisite attention to the problem. Though Punjab government had done a study by PGIMER but after nothing was happened. No high official ever visited since the report is out. No government effort is visible not even a simple early detection of cancer

and its documentation. Neither the Punjab Pollution Control Board after spending more then Rs 15 lakh takes any follows up step nor does the health department taken any initiative for remedial measures. Jajjal is still awaiting a full-fledged environmental epidemiological study and house to house surveillance to tackle the crisis. In this government apathy and darkness there is ray of light also Jarnail Singh is running a Vatavaran Chetna Kendra established by Kheti Virasat Mission in the village. He has also taken step to make Jajjal pesticide free as he has started pesticide free natural farming and he is also motivating other farmers to join this community initiative.

But on the other hand the Agriculture Department and Punjab Agriculture University does not show any kind of interest in village accepts promoting Bt. cotton. Both have regional centers at Bathinda only 32 Kilometers away. Irony is that officials of department and PAU are prescribing Bt cotton as a remedy to this environmental health crisis. More painful is that the politicians from both camps are also singing the same chorus. They should know that Bt cotton is here from last four years and still the children like Manish are taking birth.

Then another dark side is mounting debt and rising number of farmers’ suicides. It is irony of Jajjal that it has also witnessed about 20 farmer’s suicides in last ten years and there are several others who had moved out of agriculture after selling their land. Now they are land less labourer. Jajjal is in deed a village in acute crisis.

Jajjal needs a new start for life. Let us hope the new government in Punjab takes care of this and evolve a strategy and action plan for cancer free, toxicity free, debt free and suicide free Jajjal. That should be light of hope for thousand of other villages facing the same doom. So, that there should no more Manish and Kartar Kaurs not only in Jajjal but whole of Malwa region. But there is a question – Who has time for this?

(Author is Executive Director of Kheti Virasat Mission. Jaitu, Faridkot district based environmental NGO in Punjab. Phone: 9872682161, E-mail:

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