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No end to politics over Farmers' Suicide: Welcome to the killing fields of Orissa
"It was more like politicking with the misery and death of poor farmers than taking the farming related issues sympathetically. Over 30 farmers committed suicide in the state of Orissa primarily due to crop loss and the pressure of repayment of loans from nationalised banks and other private sources. Political leaders including the agriculture minister of Orissa and his ostrich government officials deny these to be the facts behind a series of suicide. However, experts believe that the farmers are under severe stress in the state for unavailability of suitable farm credit, reducing land holding, escalating input cost and freaky monsoon add to the distress of the farmers."
HNF Correspondent : December 29, 2009
Everyone agrees about the erratic monsoon that is the mainstay of the Orissa’s agriculture; everyone agrees that cultivation no longer remains remunerative for the farmers in the state; no one also disagrees about the unavailability of ‘convenient’ farm credit for the farmers, but when a farmer commits suicide in distress, we are still not ready to agree that he did it under duress. We are not even ready to agree with the wife of the dead farmer.
“Yes my husband died after crop loss. He was publicly humiliated by bank officials for not paying up the debt he had taken. He was not in a position to pay up the debt he had taken from the bank this year. He was under tremendous pressure (which he told day before the fateful day) before he decided to hang himself before my own eyes,” said an emotional Hema Kujur the wife of Francis Kujur of Sundergarh district who committed suicide ‘after crop loss’.
But the state agriculture minister was in denial. Unaware of the Hema’s presence in a state level meet, `Farmers Suicide and Reforms in Mining Sector of Odisha’ organized by Janata Vikas Manch (JVM) in association with Sahabhagi Vikash Abhiyan (SVA) and Centre for World Solidarity (CWS) on 22nd December 2009, the state agriculture minister blatantly claimed that Francis Kujur did not die after crop loss nor he did he have any trouble in paying up his bank debt.
“I have checked about Francis Kujur myself through my officers. I have gathered information on my own. He did not have any problem of paying up his debt nor was he under duress,” said Damodar Rout unaware of the presence of Francis Kujur’s wife there.
Even Francis Kujur’s job card furnished which scores zero work days since allotment of card. A copy of his bank statement was furnished for record. But that even failed to convince the minister.
“I myself have gone to Francis Kujur’s village. Here is his empty job card which proves that he has not got a single day work under NREGA. His three acres of land had not enough produce this year to feed his family forcing him to work as a daily labourer. When he was under duress, the bank officials acted like proverbial greedy Shylocks,” said Pravin Patel a social activist and Director (East Zone) of Tribal Welfare Society.
Not ready to buy the claims of the deceased farmer’s wife, Mr Rout, however, asserted that farmers in the state have not committed suicide due to loan burden or crop loss as propagated by a section of media and opposition political parties.
“Those who committed suicide might incidentally be farmers, but they have certainly not committed it due to crop loss; rather, may be, due to other reasons than crop failure,” Rout asserted.
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The minister’s assertion is at variance with the emotional narration of the deceased farmer’s wife herself - not to speak of the 'other farmers who have committed suicide’ since the cases of farmer suicide has been reported in the state.
Though ostrich government official claims to know better than the deceased farmer’s wife, the experts believe that the farmers have been under tremendous pressure and severe stress in the state. Unavailability of suitable farm credit, reducing land holding, escalating input cost, freaky monsoon add to the distress of the farmers in the state.
“Pilling up debt and loss of crops are major reasons for farmers’ suicides in the state. There is also a mismatch between the input cost and the selling price. Though the prices of firm products have gone up, the profit hardly goes to farmer’s pocket leading to the distress’ said Sudhakar Panda, the Chairman of Third State Finance Commission.
In the wake of the reports of farmers’ suicide, Orissa government has formed a Farmer’s Commission to look into the problems of the farmers and mooted a 5000 crore plan for non-farm sector to supplement the income of the farmer ‘which has no longer remained remunerative’.
But some experts are of view that more needs to be done to address issue than just ‘a package’.
“Farmers have turned into milching cows in the state. Farmers in the state hardly get return of the investment. Sometimes the return is pretty less than the investment. Faulty Minimum Support Price has added to the woes of the farmers. Lack of institutional support like free electricity, cheap loan for buying pump set and other machineries for cultivation has ceased farming a least remunerative,” said Jagdish Pradhan, a member of Former National Farmer’s Commission suggesting implementation of Farmers’ Commission.