New study by human rights organisation
CHANDIGARH: There has been a spurt in suicides recently by farmers who had to sell off their lands to pay off their debts. The incidence of such tragedies was more in areas around the tail-end of the canal irrigation systems as compared to others.
This is indicated in a new study by a human rights organisation, the Movement Against State Repression (MASR), which has been consistent for almost a decade in raising the issue at various levels. The organisation’s convenor, Inderjeet Singh Jaijee, talking to reporters here over the week end expressed concern at the growing numbers of multiple suicides where members of the same family ended their lives due to economic hardships borne out of the agrarian crisis.
Referring to a status report filed by the State Government to the Centre last year, where it had mentioned that 2116 villagers had committed suicide from 1988 to 2004, Mr. Jaijee said that it was a gross under-reporting of the problem.
Mr. Jaijee said that a trend was visible in the tragedy. He said that of the total suicides, 40 percent victims were agricultural labourers, of whom about half were those who were earlier cultivators and had to sell their lands to pay off their debts. Some farmers committed suicide the day they sold off their last acre as the family adopted labour as a profession.
Mr. Jaijee pointed out that the MASR survey also indicated that since 1988, at least 316 farmers and labourers had ended their lives in 11 villages located in a radius of about 4 kms around Chural, which is the ancestral village of the mother of the Punjab Chief Minister, Amarinder Singh. The neighbouring Ballaran village accounted for as many as 79 suicides during the period. These villages were located at the tail end of the canal irrigation system. A similar trend was also witnessed in Mansa district, he added.
Arguing that more debt-ridden farmers have taken their lives in Punjab as compared to the entire country put together, Mr. Jaijee was appalled at the apathy being displayed by the Union as well as the state government to initiate any steps to arrest the problem. He pointed out that despite consistently writing to President, Prime Minister, Planning Commission, Governor of the Reserve Bank of India and Chairman of the National Commission on farmers, when a delegation of Akali MPs called on him, the Union Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar, expressed ignorance of such incidence as he cited a communication from the Punjab Government claiming that farmers in the state did not commit suicides.
Mr Jaijee said that the official apathy was a result of lack of the interest from the Centre, which did not want to divert any more funds to the rural sector, while the states did not have enough to pay for the compensation and devise schemes to deal with the crisis. He said that as the agriculture policy, especially the pricing of the inputs and the produce had been taken over by the Centre, the responsibility to compensate also lay with it.