Debating India

FARMER’S SUICIDES

Relief package, long-term measures

B. Chandrashekhar

Friday 2 July 2004, by CHANDRASHEKHAR*B.

Interview with N. Raghuveera Reddy, Minister for Agriculture, Andhra Pradesh.

Apart from announcing relief measures, the State government has constituted a Cabinet Sub-Committee under the chairmanship of N. Raghuveera Reddy, Minister for Agriculture, to formulate a comprehensive relief package to help the State’s farmers who are in distress and to prevent suicides. The Ministers for Home, Revenue and Cooperation are the other members of the committee.

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P.V. Sivakumar

Excerpts from an interview he gave B. Chandrashekhar:

What are the relief measures initiated by the State government to help farmers in distress?

To begin with, Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy waived the dues of agricultural power bills to the tune of Rs.1,280 crores and announced free power supply worth Rs.450 crores per annum to the farm sector, immediately after taking the oath of office. Besides, an interim relief package has been announced to help the families of farmers who committed suicide.

Could you explain the relief package?

As per GO [Government Order] No.421 issued on June 1, the State government has decided to provide economic support and rehabilitation to the distressed family members of farmers who have committed suicide. An ex-gratia of Rs.1 lakh will be given in cases of farm-income-related suicides of farmers. It would be deposited in the joint account of the legal heir[s] of the deceased farmer and the MRO [Mandal Revenue Officer] concerned and the amount could be utilised in three years for the generation of farm-related income. Besides, another Rs.50,000 would be given for clearing debts as a one-time settlement to the lenders. The package would be implemented in the case of all suicides arising out of farm-income-related issues, which occurred between July 1, 1998 and June 1, 2004.

How can the farmers approach the government for help?

We have already set up helplines in all districts for counselling farmers in distress. We want to build confidence among them. In Anantapur, 1,072 farmers called up the helpline between May 22 and June 10, and a similar number of written representations seeking financial assistance were received.We would take steps to prevent harassment by the lenders till the kharif crop is harvested, after receiving the calls. In a special SLBC [State Level Bankers’ Committee] meet convened by the Chief Minister recently, the bankers were urged to reschedule the loans and allow the farmers to clear them in four to six instalments without interest. They were also urged to issue fresh loans. A task force was formed by bankers and NABARD [National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development] to work out the modalities.

Are there any plans to waive loans or invoke the Rural Indebtedness (Debt Relief) Act?

I agree that the humiliation resulting from harassment by moneylenders is the main reason for the farmers’ suicides. They charge interest at exorbitant rates ranging from 24 per cent to 60 per cent. But, at the same time, the farming community depends on private moneylenders for 75 to 80 per cent of its financial needs. Institutional credit meets only 20 to 25 per cent of its needs. However, we are planning to bring in legislation fixing a ceiling on the interest rate - not beyond 12 per cent - charged by private moneylenders.

In spite of all these measures, why do you think there has been a spurt in suicides since the second fortnight of May?

The farmers are in severe distress owing to the debts piled up over the years. They are taking the extreme step after suffering from humiliation and exhausting all their resources to pull their lives together amidst exploitation and a prolonged drought. It is ridiculous to say that the farmers are ending their lives for the sake of just Rs.1.5 lakhs given as a relief package by the government. Nobody does that. A mass campaign has been launched to instil confidence among the farmers.

What are the short-term relief measures?

The government would supply groundnut and soyabean seeds with subsidies and an amount of Rs.40 crores has already been released for the purpose. In Anantapur, 3.17 lakh quintals of groundnut seeds would be supplied. Steps would also be taken to save the farmers from spurious seeds and pesticides. A meeting was held with companies recently and they were warned against any mischief. In all, 26,000 samples of seeds, pesticides and fertilizers would be checked for quality. Crop insurance of Rs.208 crores was finalised, including Rs.117.8 crores for Anantapur district. Besides, the farmers not covered by insurance schemes would be given an input subsidy of Rs.500 an acre for a maximum of five acres.

And the long term measures?

We would take up cloud-seeding on a permanent basis. We are also chalking out a time-bound programme to complete 26 pending irrigation projects in a time-frame of five years. We have taken up the issue of changes in the crop insurance scheme. The Union Agriculture Minister has responded positively. We are also planning to introduce insurance schemes for failed borewells. We seek the opinion of all parties, farmers, intellectuals and other sections of society to find a permanent solution to the farmers’ suicides. With all these efforts, we are firm in our commitment to put an end to the suicides.

See online : Frontline

P.S.

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

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