Home arrow Archives arrow Open Forum arrow Open Forum 2006 arrow Farmers’ Suicides:SOLUTION: WRITE OFF THEIR DEBTS,by T.D. Jagadesan, 16 November 2006
News and Features
INFA Digest
Parliament Spotlight
Journalism Awards
Farmers’ Suicides:SOLUTION: WRITE OFF THEIR DEBTS,by T.D. Jagadesan, 16 November 2006 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 16 November 2006

Farmers’ Suicides


By T.D. Jagadesan

The suicides of several small and marginal farmers during the last two years have been most grisly reminders of the sad plight of such people in India today.  The irony of it becomes acute when it is seen in the context of the high economic growth in the last few years.  While India is being hailed as one of the most rapidly growing economy in the world, it has also attracted worldwide attention for farmers’ suicides and the large number of people languishing below the poverty line.

The gruesome news that Vidarbha, an economically backward region of Maharashtra, has recorded more than 10,000 cases of suicides by farmers since June 2005, is a striking example of the mismatch between the GDP growth and wealth distribution in India. Agriculture has become the weakest segment of the economy and the small and marginal farmers have been sidelined.

Only a few of them are able to earn enough to cover the costs; they incur in production, while others remains steeped in debts. One may ask why they are continuing in this occupation when they are incurring loses.  But the counter question is, what else they can do with their low level of skills for any other occupation and the unemployment in rural areas.

They have been living in the hope that brighter days will dawn as promised to them by every political party that seeks their votes, but now they see no sign of such days ever coming for them. On the other hand, their todays are getting worse than their yesterdays. The Government announces “packages” of assistance giving the farmers the hope that they will help in lifting them up from their miserable plight.

But the benefits of these packages trickle down very slowly to them, if they do at all, and when their hopes snap, the desperate among them resort to ending their lives as the only option open to them.  In this context, the Prime Minister’s statement last month about the need for “fundamentally new perspective on rural development and agriculture” sounds a hopeful note.

He has acknowledged that Indian agriculture is in crisis and “the real challenge of the next decade is to pull out subsistence farmers from their marginal existence and propel the advanced farmers on to the global platform”.  This article will not go into what requires to be done for the agricultural sector as a whole as it is focused on the immediate action required to relieve the distress of the small and marginal farmers. They have been hoping for a long time for a new set of policies and programmes.

They have no time and energy left to wait for the promised comprehensive plan for the entire community of farmers.  All experts who have gone into the incidents of suicides have come to the conclusion that the single important factor that has prompted them to take their lives is their debt burden which has become unbearable for them.

No sane person will think of ending his life if he has any other alternative.  Others may think it is foolish on the part of the farmers to end their lives. They may call it foolish or desperate, but one should not overlook the fact that such macabre acts have taken place on a large scale and in several parts of the country.

In fact, the foolishness will be on the part of those who think that the crisis facing the small farmers is a temporary phenomenon and that it will pass away soon. If bold remedies matching the gravity of the problem are not taken most urgently by the Government, the problem will become too intractable for any solution later.

Two urgent measures, according to economic pundits, have to be taken to address the distress of the farmers: one, a clean write-off of all the debts they owe to the banking institution, and two, cancellation of all loans and the interests they owe to moneylenders who have been conducting their operations illegally.  These steps may be criticized by some people as unjustifiable subsidy to an unviable sector.

There is an impression in some sections of the media and the public that the farmers in India have been pampered too much by concession and subsidies from the Government and it will be bad economics and even poor politics to increase the quantum of subsidies to them.  But the fact is that the Indian farmer receives the least degree of support from the state in the form of subsidies.

The farmer in the United States gets subsidies not only for cultivating his land but also for not cultivating if such restraints on production are found necessary to prevent depression of prices. It is estimated that the US farmers, are able to export wheat at prices 56 per cent below their cost because of subsidies from the Government.

Obviously, Indian farmers cannot expect to get subsidies at rates anywhere near those received by farmers in developed countries. But no one should ignore the fact that a large percentage of the farmers in India own less than one hectare each, and if proper attention is not paid to the acute distress of such a large section of the population the whole society will have to pay the penalty for such a neglect.

The reasonableness of a write-off of loan to such people will become more convincing when we take into account the fact that the non-performing assets of the public sector banks of India sources.  Any measure of relief to the small and marginal farmers without a clean write-off of their existing debts will become only a token gesture, as the results of the “packages” of assistance already given have shown.

Equally important, according to a school of thought, is the need for simultaneous arrangements for advancing loans at soft rates of interest to small and medium farmers. Eminent agricultural experts like Dr. M.S. Swaminathan have suggested that 4 per cent will be a reasonable rate of interest for loans to small and marginal farmers in their present state of acute distress.

The subsidies involved in such measures may prima facie appear to be a dead loss to the Government, but in the long run they will prove to be beneficial to the entire economy.  If we agree that pulling out the subsistence farmers from their marginal existence is the real challenge of the decade, as stated by the Prime Minister, quick action on these lines cannot be postponed any further.---INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)



< Previous   Next >
  Mambo powered by Best-IT