Suicide spiral

This year’s poor monsoon, which has caused drought in vast stretches of the country, has triggered early tragedy. Around 21 farmers have reportedly committed suicide over the last 40 days in Andhra Pradesh. In Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region, around 36 farmers are reported to have taken their lives in July and seven so far in August. One farmer has killed himself in Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh. With the monsoon playing truant this year, farmers in Andhra have not been able to sow their fields or seeds sown have dried in parched fields. And the sowing season for the kharif crops is over, which means that they will not have a crop this year. It is evident that with disaster looming, the desperate farmers took their lives.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Rajashekar Reddy has confirmed the suicides. This is a welcome shift because ministers and officials always try to deny such deaths. However, by maintaining that the suicides were prompted by personal reasons, Reddy is singing a tired old tune that several before him have sung in a bid to shift the blame for the suicides from flawed government policy and poorly implemented programmes to the individual’s mental and emotional state. Many of the farmers who took their lives seem to have run into severe debt incurred over the years due to poverty and high cost of seeds and fertilisers. They were hoping that this year’s harvest would bail them out. But this was not to be. Drought and the failed kharif crop dealt them a severe blow. Had these farmers had a safety net to see them through this drought, they might not have been so devastated. Suicide need not have been an option.

More farmers are likely to take their lives in the coming months as the full impact of the poor monsoon begins to unfold across rural India. Andhra and Vidarbha have sent out early warning signals of what lies ahead and the Centre and state governments need to pay attention and gear up. There are programmes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana. These are meant to help farmers and rural people tide over unemployment and other problems. Their importance has increased in the wake of the drought and the failed crops. Implementation of these schemes should improve.

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