Farmer Suicide In India By Jayantha Potharaju from Jindal Global Law School
On July 17th, around 100 farmers from Tamil Nadu had protested in front of the Jantar Mantar. When asked why they had to come all the way to New Delhi, they said that they wanted to make their demands in a language that the Centre could understand.[i] Why is there such a loss of hope and desperation among the agrarian community in India? What is the reason for 12,000 farmers taking their own lives every year?[ii]
The farmers who had gathered on the 17th had two aims: show solidarity with farmers who had committed suicide and a complete write-off on loans. The former is one that we must empathize with but the latter is commonly cited as one of the primary reasons for farmer suicides, indebtedness.
The average salary of a farmer in India is only Rs.6,400 and what is worse is that it is usually only the male who is the sole breadwinner of the family.[iii] The effect of this is that, in 2015, 80 per cent of farmers had committed suicide because of bankruptcy or debts after taking loans.
The lack of financial literacy in farmers is also another reason for their eventual suicides. In a recent study, it was reported that close to 70 percent of India’s households are pushed closer to debt as they spend more than they earn.[iv] Households where farmers have committed suicide have a higher proportion of debt for non-productive purposes such as consumption, social ceremonies and illness.[v]
A huge amount of money taken in the form of loans is usually spent for digging up of borewells as the government is trying to shift the focus to water – intensive crops. The process of sinking of borewells needs a heavy amount of capital. Thus, it is generally the case that a borewell is dug up and a farmer and his family take a huge amount of loan to dig the said borewell. As fate would have it, there is scarcity of water despite the digging of borewells and there is a suicide in the family due to lack of capital. Ironically the richer farmers use electrical motors with the borewells and are consequently able to avail the electricity subsidies whereas the poorer ones suffer.[vi]
A major reason for the farmer suicides at present is the laxity of the Centre, which during the Green Revolution period, did not pay any heed to the warnings given by experts. The following advent of globalization and the coming of multi - national corporations diminished the land resources and added to the woes of the agrarians.[vii] The so-called grain bowls of the past such as Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra are now the biggest contributors to farmer suicides in the country.
In a documentary titled “Nero’s guests”, ex - Rural Affairs Editor of The Hindu, P. Sainath shows a very grim picture of the financial support provided by the government to these farmers. For example, we are shown that when the Sensex took a dip a few years ago, it took lesser than two hours for the Prime Minister to go to Dalal street and console the weeping tycoons. Paradoxically, it took him ten years to visit the family of a farmer who had committed suicide.[viii]
So, is the Centre then responsible for the deaths of all these farmers? No, is the answer they claim. The Centre during an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court in April 2017 agreed that the death of farmers was an “unfortunate issue” but they could only be held responsible for the formulation of the plans and not the implementation. The implementation, according to the Centre, is up to the State.[ix]
Whoever the implementation is up to, one thing both the State and Centre can probably agree upon is that farmer suicides in India is an inevitable issue. The immense loss of life, both old and young and the consequent impact, both socially and economically must be devastating for the suicide afflicted families.
There is the fact that the Centre has raised the budget for agriculture from 9 to 10 crores but given the candid admission by them as stated above, one can only wonder if this raise in budget has any real value or is it a mere political eyewash.
[i] "Family Debts Main Cause of Indian Farm Suicides." The Economic Times. Economic Times, 28 June 2017. Web. 19 July 2017.
[ii] Mahapatra, Dhananjay. "Over 12,000 Farmer Suicides per Year, Centre Tells Supreme Court - Times of India." The Times of India. India, 02 May 2017. Web. 19 July 2017.
[iii] Venkat, Vidya. "Will Budget Help Double Farmers' Income?" The Hindu. The Hindu, 06 Feb. 2017. Web. 19 July 2017.
[iv]"Family Debts Main Cause of Indian Farm Suicides." The Economic Times. Economic Times, 28 June 2017. Web. 19 July 2017.
[v] Vaidyanathan, A. “Farmers' Suicides and the Agrarian Crisis.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 41, no. 38, 2006, pp. 4009–4013. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4418717.
[vi] E. A. S. Sarma. “Is Rural Economy Breaking Down? Farmers' Suicides in Andhra Pradesh.” Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 39, no. 28, 2004, pp. 3087–3089. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4415247.
[vii] Singh, Santosh Kr. “Sociological Bulletin.” Sociological Bulletin, vol. 61, no. 1, 2012, pp. 183–186. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/23620959.
[viii] Nero’s Guests. Dir. Deepa Bhatia. Cinephil, 2009. Documentary
[ix] Rajagopal, Krishnadas. "Farm Suicides Get Attention of Supreme Court." The Hindu. The Hindu, 30 Apr. 2017. Web. 19 July 2017.
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