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Debate on farmers’ suicides

Debate on farmers’ suicides

22 March 2005

SHRI SHARAD ANANTRAO JOSHI (MAHARASHTRA): Mr. Chairman Sir, yet once again, I get up in this House to talk on the subject of farmers' suicides. After having devoted 25 years to the farmers’ movement, I came to the House, and I don't know how many times this subject has been discussed in this House. It was raised through Starred Questions, raised through Unstarred Questions, there were Supplementaries, there were Mentions, there were Calling Attentions and luckily at least, this Short Duration question happens in good day time and when most of the Members are present. I remember last time when the subject was taken, there was hardly the quorum present in this House.
I started last time by paying homage to the dead because I think it’s very important that you understand that if this House passes a resolution or the House pays a homage to 250 people dying in an accident in Maharashtra, then, more than 11,000 farmers are dying in the country as a whole is a serious matter, not to be lightly taken for political or party polemics or jeering sort of things that I have heard in this forum on this day. I hope that this is the last time that I would have to get up to talk about the farmers' suicides. And this is hoping against hope. But, I do express my hope that I would not have to get up to speak on this subject once again.
Question number one - How many farmers have actually committed suicide, nobody knows, I’m quite sure. But, I find that SHRI PENUMALLI Madhuji said that in Karnataka, the number is very small. And when Shri Rahman Khanji was in the Chair and Shri Venkaiah Naidu was speaking, they said that they come from Karnataka and they mentioned that the figure of Karnataka was something like 640. I would like to mention here that in the Standing Committee on Agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture has supplied a document which gives the figures of around not 640 but 800 for Andhra Pradesh. And then in Karnataka, it has mentioned that there were about 840 suicides. And there was a footnote underneath saying that this figure has since been revised to 870. So, the maximum numbers of suicides are actually from Karnataka. There are various reasons for that. I, as a farm organisation worker, have had to go right from 1994 in Andhra Pradesh to the latest cases of suicides in Punjab, and I have seen personally the situation in, practically, every State. What is important is to understand what the reasons are. And I have merely made a clear analysis. Number one, from all the data that I have gathered, the suicides belong to all kinds of castes. It is not correct to say that they belong only to lower castes or that they belong only to higher castes. They are caste-neutral. Number two, they are age-neutral. I find that farmers who have committed suicides belong to all age groups. It has nothing to do with the optimism of the youth or the pessimism of the old-age. Then, the land holding does not appear to affect the suicides either. Even large farmers who hold as much as 50 acres of land have committed suicide; as farmers who hold 50 acres of land go for the stone-breaking job when it comes to the Employment Guarantee Scheme. It is, in a way, crop-neutral, but not quite. Because the incidents, in case of cotton, are pretty high and I will try to explain why it is higher in the case of cotton. It is not quite water-neutral. But the incidents, in case of areas where the irrigation is high, are comparatively lower. We find there are two reasons for it. If there is water, of course, the risk to the crop is much less. And if there is damage to the crop, all the risk of loss of crop is much less. Then, obviously, the farmers are exposed to much less risk. But, the combination of two things is not the cash crops. There are a number of cash crops. For example, Madhuji, Maharashtra grows sugarcane, which is a cash crop. But, there has not been a single suicide in the case of sugarcane in Maharashtra. Cotton is a crop on its own, and the reason why cotton presents more cases of suicide is very simply this. 

(Contd. by 2U)


SHRI SHARAD ANANTRAO JOSHI (contd.): If you have a look at the statements submitted under the signature of Mr Pranab Mukherjee in 1986-89 and, again the same statement submitted, in 1996-97, you will find that the negative AMS, negative subsidy for cotton is the highest in case of India. There is no other crop where the negative subsidy is as high as in case of cotton. And it becomes particularly pernicious when you are having dry land cotton. Dry land cotton combines two features. Number one, the risks that are involved in the physical production are higher, and when you produce cotton, then the Governmental intervention makes the living of the farmer even more difficult.
What has happened is really the old saying. In case of farmers, it is either aasmani or sultani. In case of the cotton farmers, what has happened is, that the weather Gods have failed the agriculture and the Government has failed them. And i feel that this is a very serious matter. Because when I look back on my own life, I find that having spent twenty-five years in the service of the farmers, that the farmers are still driven to suicide; shows that there is something wrong; even I have failed the farmers. There are some mistakes that I have made, that I could not lead them in the correct direction.
Now, let us avoid all political controversies. Formally, I belong to the NDA for good reasons. But I am making it very clear that all successive Governments have failed the farmers. The congress has failed them, and every successive Prime Minister, except Lal Bahadur Shastri, has failed them. I would make one exception, Lal Bahadur Shastri, who brought in the Green Revolution and who also brought in the Agricultural Prices Commission, is the only exception. At the same time, C. Subramanyam was the Minister for Agriculture. This was the pair which had a true appreciation of the farmers' problem. Except for them, all Governments, including the NDA Government, have failed the farmers, and there is absolutely no other exception. Let us not make it a political issue. Let us take it as seriously as the matter requires to be taken.
Agriculture, as C. Subramanyam said, is a losing proposition. That is something that is said as early as in 1961. And since then, I have taken years after years of statistics as a Chairman of the Standing Advisory Committee on the National Agricultural Policy, as Chairman of the Task Force on WTO Regulations. I have not seen a single year in which agriculture has not been a losing proposition. Now when you have successive losses and they go on accumulating, and you go on taking loans and the debts go on accumulating, then there comes a point where you find that there is no way out, there is an impasse and you have to find some kind of a drastic solution. Even with this economic--sort of--crunch, I don't think suicides would have happened. There are always compounding factors, because suicide is always a very complex social and psychological phenomenon. The Government reports, while analysing the suicides of farmers, have talked of illnesses, diseases, inability to finance the treatment; they have talked of the family disputes; and one of the Chief Ministers of Maharashtra even talked of despair in love affairs to explain some of the cases of farmers' suicide. Now all these things might be true, partly true, I am not ruling them out. But then the incidents of all these things--people fall ill, people get diseased more frequently--there is a greater likelihood of people being unwell if you are poor. There is a greater likelihood of family disputes coming up when the family itself is sinking and declining. There is a much greater chance of family disputes happening. And, therefore, all the other causes that have been mentioned in the Government report are concomitant or attendant upon the basic question that agriculture is a losing proposition and no amount of new credit that Mr. Chidambaram has promised, as so many others have promised, is going to improve the situation of farmers because as long as credit can only help bridge a temporary gap. Credit can always help a business which is in the long run paying. Agriculture has been a losing proposition for such a long time that credit by itself doesn't mean any kind of relief for the farmers.
Now, what is required to be done? For want of time, I would mention that there is, really, no need to have a political dispute. Even though I don't belong to the UPA, I would point out that the National Common Minimum Programme, about which everybody talks here, contains only two paragraphs, which are quite enough to take care of the entire farmers' problems. Let us not go about the NDA. They have failed us; the UPA should not fail us, particularly because you are on sound lines having faced the farmers for years together.
One question the National Common Minimum Programme mentions very specifically is that we will take measures to see that all policies that have the effect of depressing agricultural prices will be removed, for example, the Essential Commodities Act will be scrapped and nothing will be done that would have the effect of bringing down the prices. I am sorry that the Minister of Agriculture has left, but I would like to point out that in this very House, he said that for this year, at least, we are stopping, we are banning, all exports of food- grains.
 (Contd. by 2w)


SHRI SHARAD ANANTRAO JOSHI (CONTD): When we are actually trying to develop a new export market in food grains, for one year if you stop it, it means you lose the export market. Right now, as pointed out by Mr. Amar Singh, who is the Chief Minister of Punjab, the growing price of wheat in wheaten markets of Pakistan is above Rs.1200 a quintal. And we are now offering farmers just Rs.630. If only we could send it across the Wagha Border to Pakistan, they could have it for Rs.1000 and our farmers would be happy instead of coming to Delhi. Punjab farmers and Haryana farmers came in large numbers on the 16th March in Delhi and they said 'just give us something more than Rs.630' while in Pakistan the growing price is more than Rs.1200. So number one - follow faithfully the National Common Minimum Programme item that you will not do anything that has the effect of the depressing agricultural prices.


Unlike USA, we are not asking you to help the farmers. We are just asking you to stop being a nuisance. That basically is the Gandhian philosophy. Everybody talks of helping the farmers; nobody is prepared to get off his back. Then the second paragraph in the National Common Minimum Programme is that we will try to lighten the burden of debts and burden of interest from the farmers. Supply of additional credit does not mean that you are lightening the burden. What is required to be done, as Chairman of the Task Force on Agriculture, I had specifically recommended to the previous Government that as long as the USA continues to give billions of dollars to its farmers, what we can do at the minimum is to stop coercive recovery. I am not saying write-off the loans. I have fought for that. I am not saying it under the new post-1991, post-Dr. Manmohan Singh era, not asking for the waiver of loans. What I am saying is stop coercive recovery. Then, I think, as Mr. Gill pointed out, we have a good precedent. Sir Chhotu Ram under the Unionist Party Government passed a Land Alienation Act. This was approved in Punjab, which has been in effect for quite some time, and that stops effectively. Basically Even the Criminal Procedure Code in India does not permit the seizing of farmer's land, seizing of farmer's household, seizing of farmer's bullocks. That has to be made applicable in general to all the farmers. You can recover the loans. ..(Time-bell) If the farmer has non-agricultural sources of income, but otherwise, you cannot make any coercive recoveries from farmers. If only these two programmes are followed; don’t do anything to depress agricultural prices and stop coercive recovery from farmers. I am quite sure the number of suicides and the incidents of suicides would come down and I would not have to hold, I would not have to get up once again in this House to talk about farmers' suicide. (Ends)


SHRI P.G. NARAYANAN (TAMIL NADU): Mr. Vice-Chairman, Sir, I am pained that farmers who are the backbone of our country and who provide food for millions of people are forced to commit suicide in various parts of the country, particularly in Andhra Pradesh and Northern Karnataka. Sir, a spate of suicide has been witnessed more in the last one year. This is a direct fallout of a series of drought which this area suffered for four years. Sir, Andhra Pradesh and Northern Karnataka have faced drought for the past four years. Both the Governments, of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, are busy in showcasing their information technology potential. Both the Chief Ministers are vying with each other to promote information technology only. So, these Governments were catering to the interests of certain sections of people. Hyderabad becomes Cyberabad and Bangalore city was developed with a vengeance. But both these Governments turned a blind eye to the plight of farmers who could not cultivate their crops for four successive years.

(Contd by 2x)


SHRI P. G. NARAYANAN (CONTD.): The Central Government was only busy in giving rice which never reached the poor people. The nationalised banks, which were in the vanguard of providing cheep credit to the farmers, were also told by the Central Government to turn away from the rural sector. Sir, South India has very few perennial rivers and it is known to everyone here. The drought witnessed in the first four years and the mass suicide by farmers should force the political establishment to take steps to link peninsular rivers. Sir, unless the Ganges is linked with Kaveri, there cannot be genuine national integration. Lip service to nationalism will not take the country forward. Sir, so far as the farmers are concerned, when they are burdened by loans which they could not repay due to drought and other reasons, they should be given moratorium at least for five years. Sir, this will give great relief to the farmers in times of crisis. Sir, in the regime of our late Leader Puratchi Thalaivar MGR we gave moratorium to farmers which helped the farmers a lot. Even now, under the regime of our dynamic Leader Puratchi Thalaivi, we have abolished this kanthuvatti i.e. usurious interest to facilitate the farmers to get the loans at lesser rate of interest. Sir, farmers have been provided with free food and free supply of rice is given to the farmers of Kaveri Delta Basin when they face acute drought there. Sir, in Tamil Nadu, farmers have been provided free power with uninterrupted, continuous power, without power cut. Sir, this type of measures should be undertaken in Andhra Pradesh to alleviate the sufferings of poor farmers. The Party in power in the present Andhra Pradesh Government headed by * came to power certainly one year back by misleading the people of Andhra Pradesh by saying that Telugu Desam Government did not care for the poor farmers. * also charged the TDP Government with promoting Information Technology in and around Hyderabad city and never bothered about the toiling masses. But curiously, the number of farmers committing suicide due to poverty has increased manifold ever since Congress came to power in Andhra Pradesh. Hundreds of farmers specially, in the Telengana and Rayalaseema regions have ended their lives by committing suicide. I, therefore, demand from * who made farmers' issue his main plank in his own campaign, that he should own moral responsibility for the spate of suicides in that State.

THE VICE-CHAIRMAN (SHRI SANTOSH BAGRODIA): Mr. Narayanan, you should not mention the name of the Chief Minister in this House.

SHRI P. G. NARAYANAN: No, no, but moral responsibility...


* Not recorded.

THE VICE-CHAIRMAN (SHRI SANTOSH BAGRODIA): But you can't mention the name. You can say 'Chief Minister'. This is not allowed. I am only talking about the rule. It is better to avoid names. (Interruptions) Please sit down. I am protecting you, why are you bothered? Please go ahead.

SHRI P. G. NARAYANAN: There should be owing of moral responsibility and tender apology for the injustices done to the farmers for the past one year. Thank you.