Agri crisis fuelling farmers' suicides

Five months after the new state of Telangana came into being, the fate of its farmers remains grim. According to official statistics, over 350 of its farmers committed suicide since June 2, the day the new state came into being.

The failure of crops and the consequent inability of farmers to pay back loans are likely to have forced them to take the extreme step. The situation in neighbouring Maharashtra is worse with over 3,146 farmers taking their lives in 2013.

Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region alone accounted for 30 per cent of the suicides. Telangana and Vidarbha together share 40 per cent of India’s farmers’ suicides.

Authorities have often blamed ‘family problems’ for farmers taking their lives, brushing aside the severe agrarian crisis that underlies the phenomenon. Steps to address the problem have consequently been superficial and involve quick fix solutions aimed at getting votes, rather than addressing the underlying issues that drive farmers to suicide. While announcement of loan waivers is welcome as it serves to reduce the burden of debt on farmers, its implementation has been below par.

Besides, this does not apply to loans that farmers take from local money-lenders, the main source of loans in rural India. Further, loan waivers do not prevent farmers from turning to loans again in the wake of crop failure.

Poor rainfall, especially in drought-prone areas of Telangana and Vidarbha, and diversion of river waters to meet the needs of urban Indians leave farmers with little water for irrigation. It pushes them to take loans to finance the drilling of bore wells. But with the groundwater level receding, such wells besides being expensive, have proved unproductive.  Added to this are day-long power cuts that force farmers to remain idle.

There is the problem of genetically modified seeds too, which require farmers to invest heavily in pesticides. The GM seeds also consume more water than traditional seeds.  It is this unsustainable agriculture that is fuelling agrarian distress and farmers’ suicides.

Among the many promises that Telangana’s politicians made during the campaign for a separate state was the pledge to address the agrarian crisis. Five months since the state came into being, besides blaming Andhra for the power shortage, the Telangana government has not taken a single concrete step to address the problems of its farmers.

The creation of smaller states is supposed to make administration more sensitive to local needs and problems. But the Telangana government has ignored the plight of its farmers. A callous attitude will only fuel the suicides.

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