Debating India

ANDHRA PRADESH

Hounded by moneylenders

B. CHANDRASHEKHAR

Friday 2 July 2004, by CHANDRASHEKHAR*B.

in Anantapur

Name: Vallem Jayarami Reddy

Age: 52

Village: Regadi Kothur

Mandal: Bukkaraya Samudram

District: Anantapur

Date of death: May 23, 2004

"They [private moneylenders] used to bother us every day by asking my husband when he was going to repay the loans. The harassment was so severe that my husband decided to end his life," said Pullamma, the wife of Vallem Jayarami Reddy, who committed suicide by consuming poisonous pills used for preserving seeds. He died in the general hospital in the district headquarters.

Like lakhs of other families of farmers in the drought-ravaged Anantapur district, the family of Jayarami Reddy, which included four children, was neck-deep in financial problems owing to the heavy losses it suffered following the failure of crops year after year since 1998. The family, with five acres (two hectares) of landholding, has a debt burden of about Rs.4 lakhs now.

Jayarami Reddy had a smooth sailing until 1997. Although two acres of his landholding is in the tail-end ayacut of the Tungabhadra Right High Level Canal (HLC) he never got any water in recent years. But, in spite of the fact that he did rain-fed cultivation, his family was able to lead a respectable life.

"We borrowed money from private lenders within the village and in the surrounding villages at 24 per cent interest per annum for the construction of a house in 1997. The next year we borrowed [Rs.10,000] from the cooperative society and from private moneylenders for cultivation on 10 acres taken on lease," explained Shankar Reddy, the elder son of the deceased farmer, who has taken to milk vending now.

The family incurred a loss of Rs.80,000 with the cultivation of a spice crop on the 10 acres as there was a total crop loss. "Perhaps this was the beginning of their problems," says Thirupal Reddy, another farmer of the village.

Since then the family has been taking land on lease and cultivating crops such as sunflower, paddy and groundnut. But to its misfortune, there was scanty rainfall year after year, and it got hardly any returns. The debts piled up. Apart from private moneylenders, Jayarami Reddy took loans from Andhra Bank and a cooperative society.

As the problems mounted, the younger son of the farmer, Chiranjeevi Reddy, migrated to Vijayawada in search of a livelihood in 2001, only to return a year later. He was unable to get sufficient work and to adjust to the working conditions there. The farmer’s self-respect took a further beating when he was jailed on a complaint by some moneylenders two years ago.

Crop losses forced Jayarami Reddy to hand over his bullocks and cart to a moneylender last year. He also made futile attempts to irrigate his land by sinking five borewells.

"He had attempted suicide six months ago but I prevented it by snatching the poisonous pills," says Pullamma.

Moneylenders have stopped hounding the family following the government’s warning to them not to bother farmers this year. "But we don’t know when they will resume the harassment," says Pullamma. "We don’t know how to overcome the problems."

See online : Frontline

P.S.

in Frontline, volume 21, Issue 13, Jun. 19 - Jul. 02, 2004.

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