Spreading gloom

Reports of a number of cases of farmers’ suicide have again shaken the country in the wake of widespread crop damage in central and western India. At least 22 farmers are said to have taken their  own lives in the last three weeks in the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions of Maharashtra.

This region has been known for suicides by farmers and the present spate has been caused by loss of crops due to unseasonal rains and hailstorm. Crops on lakhs of hectares in many states have suffered.

The damage has been heavy in many Karnataka districts too. Standing crops of onion, cotton and grapes were hit in Maharashtra. In Madhya Pradesh pulses and wheat crops and in Rajasthan mustard and other crops were affected. There is gloom and distress among the people of a large farming region across states.

All states have approached the Central government for relief and assistance. The Centre has decided on some measures including stoppage of loan recovery from farmers is affected areas. But the code of conduct for elections has come in the way of announcement of relief measures, which is now waiting for the approval of the Election Commission.

State governments will also find it difficult to implement the relief and assistance measures effectively because the officials are preoccupied with the preparations for and conduct of elections.

The proposal to encourage farmers to go in for an extra crop is there. This may not be possible in all affected areas.  Many farmers may not have the wherewithal for that in view of the losses suffered in the last crop. The government will again find it difficult to extend quick support for farmers  in the present circumstances.

For many years the government and the society have not been able to handle the problem of farmers’ suicides. In the last two decades 2.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide because of crop losses, harassment by creditors and similar reasons, plunging whole families to doom. The governments’ claim that the farmers’ suicide rate is not higher than the general suicide rate is wrong.

The reasons are complex, with many psychological, social and economic factors playing into the situations, which also vary from place to place. Basically the problems and uncertainties that attend agriculture are at the root of the malady. Strengthening and expanding insurance coverage of crops, which is very ineffective now, can help to some extent. This needs to be paid more attention to. 

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