Debt Trap Becomes Death Trap

While ‘farm suicides’ are on the rise in India, the Central and States governments have not been able to come up with a comprehensive blueprint to better the plight of farmers. The agriculture sector remains woefully neglected and a weak monsoon this year threatens to increase both the difficulties of farmers and their suicides as the only way out of these difficulties.

 

Agriculture remains one the most neglected sectors of the Indian economy. Farmers continue to be the victims of misplaced and mismanaged government policies. They continue to be at the mercy of  market forces with no comfort from any side. They are being continually pushed towards suicides as the only avenue of escape or are losing their hearts and lives under the threat of attachment and auction of their lands. Since 1991 the number of lives lost in terrorist attacks is just about 10 per cent of the farm suicides even as the government increases the defence budget every year. Despite this duress the government has not come up with a new agricultural policy. Till a few years ago, farm suicides were confined mainly to the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra, now the sad and alarming ‘phenomenon’ has begun to threaten northern India too.
On 22 July 2012, Thakur Prasad, a peasant belonging to Sithauli village under Rudauli tehsil of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh (UP) died of shock as his land was to be auctioned. His son Ashok was the member of a self-help group (SHG) in the village. He had not taken any loan from the SHG while such other members of the SHG who had taken loans had repaid their debts and had also acquired a no dues certificate. Despite this the lands of all the members of the SHG were marked for auction with red flags under orders from the Sub-Divisional Magistrate. On hearing about this, Thakur Prasad fell ill and later died. This incident has once again exposed the negligence and insensitivity of the government.
According to the statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 14,027 farmers committed suicide in India in 2011 alone. Since 1995 till date, 270, 940 farmers have committed suicide.  Maharashtra is number one in terms of farm suicides. Other severely affected states are Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. This year the situation is expected to worsen due to weak monsoons. While government data talks about a decrease in such incidents, nowhere does it seem to be happening. The Chhattisgarh government has claimed that no farm suicides have taken place in the state but the reality is that 1,026 farmers have committed suicides. The Chhattisgarh government has prepared a separate budget for agriculture for the current financial year, while Madhya Pradesh has announced that farmers will be provided interest-free credit; this scheme has already been implemented since 1 June 2012. The central government has neither a roadmap nor a policy for farmers. The government is neither able to pay the right price for the produce of the farmers nor it is able to make adequate arrangements for its warehousing.  Every year lakhs of tons of grains rot because of being left in the open.

Till a few years ago, farm suicides were confined mainly to the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. Now this sad and alarming ‘phenomenon’ has begun to threaten northern India too. On 22 July 2012, Thakur Prasad, a peasant belonging to Sithauli village under Rudauli tehsil of Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh (UP) died of shock as his land was to be auctioned. This incident has once again exposed the negligence and insensitivity of the government.
According to the statistics of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 14,027 farmers committed suicide in India in 2011 alone. Since 1995 till date, 270, 940 farmers have committed suicide.

The central government in its 2008-09 budget had started the scheme of credit waiver for farmers under which Rs. 66,000 crores were allocated. Under this scheme all the loans given to farmers by commercial banks, regional rural banks and cooperative banks were waived. But the benefit of this scheme went to the banks instead of farmers. Farmers could not get the benefit of this scheme, because most of them take loans not from banks but from moneylenders who help them immediately.
The government was not able to repay those loans. In a way, the government was able to waive the loans of only those farmers who are more or less aware and who can directly deal with banks. Illiterate and poor farmers were unable to draw any benefit from this scheme. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India too had raised questions over the implementation of the scheme. It was said in the CAG report that out of 28 states and 7 Union Territories, 40 per cent of the amount was spent only in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and UP.
The government started the Kisan Credit Card (KCC) Scheme to provide credit to farmers but the entire process from issuing of the card to actual give and take of credit was made so complex that there remained no point for the farmers to have or not have the card. The banks too became very cautious regarding their non-performing assets (NPAs) and started providing loans to only a few chosen farmers who could pay the loan back. On the other hand, Agriculture Insurance Scheme was also not popularised in the villages. Farmers are still not aware of this. At least by getting their crops insured they can escape the loss caused by any kind of disaster.
The schemes for waiving debts or providing credit which the government launches again and again are just an eyewash. The government is trapping the farmers in the web of debt by not giving them the right price for their produce. If it gives the farmers the right price for their produce according to the costs, then this problem can be solved. A farmer takes a loan only when he cannot see any other source of income.
The way farmers have taken loans in India are similar to the NINJA (no income no job no assets) loans which took America and the whole world into the web of slowdown. Here the farmers are able to take loans but are not able to repay it. If attention is not paid to this, our economy will not be able to become strong. Therefore, the government should take concrete steps for bettering the situation of farmers of the country as soon as possible.

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THE BIGGEST DEBT TRAP QUESTION

The biggest question is : how did the farmers get in the trap of debts? After the 1991 liberalisation there has been an increase in the cost of agriculture. At the same time farmers have stopped getting the right price of their produce. Due to continuous increase in the prices of fertilisers/pesticides, diesel and the high quality seeds of the companies such as the Maharashtra Hybrid Corporation, the obligation of not being able to use the produce in the form of seeds, the compulsion of buying seeds every year, the cost went on increasing but profits decreased year after year. Consequently, the farmers kept slipping in the debt trap. If the cost of a crop was Rs. 100, he was able to earn only Rs. 80.
Similarly, every year, every season his loss went on increasing. He could not save capital and whatever was there slowly got wasted. On the one hand he fought hunger while on the other he got dependent on cooperative institutions, SHGs and institutions of micro-finance for other expenses. He went on getting surrounded from all the four directions in his attempt to pay off one loan by another. In such a condition he was left with no other option but to court death.

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