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Farmers in India continue to commit suicides under burden of debt
By Yashwardhan Joshi
The 10-day 'Gaon Bandh' by farmers has brought us to the throes of a very horrific reality-- the peaceful protests by now may well turn into tumultuous agitations one day. The all red and white snapshots-- spilling of milk and scattering of tomatoes and vegetables on roads-- have become the enduring images of our collective conscience as farmers dump their produce and block supplies to cities.

But such images can change into gruesome sights in the blink of an eye when the hopes of a farming community, demanding loan waiver and higher prices for its produce, turn into despair. Till now, the impact of the farmers' stir is more or less felt in just 7-8 States of north and central India, with Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh facing most of the brunt.

According to reports, prices of vegetables in some cities have risen by 10-15 per cent and in a few by even 25 per cent as a result of dwindling supplies in mandis.

But the stir could soon take a frenzy twirl, buffeted by political segments and riotous mobs. This draws us to a pertinent question: Why should farmers, the 'annyadatas' whose task is to provide food for others, have to hit the streets and resort to protests in the first place? And to a more pertinent question: Have we failed our farmers?

When we prod ourselves, we will find that these questions have a common answer: That the farmers have, in all these years, been the unmet promises of the manifestos of political parties. Many a political class, obsessed with economic growth, has dumped the farm sector time and again, creating discontent and despair among the farming community.

Similar protests had taken place last year too, when farmers came out on the streets in large numbers to demand loan waivers. Some State governments promised waivers, while others, such as Madhya Pradesh, just skirted the issue. The UP government of Yogi Adityanath pledged to implement its poll promise, but one year into its term it put many eligibility conditions, such as fixing a maximum limit of Rs 1 lakh that could be waived. This, critics say, was too inadequate and benefitted too small a number of farmers to make any difference. The Maharashtra government of Devendra Fadnavis also promised a loan waiver but later it too fixed a cap-- of Rs 1.5 lakh. Till date, less than 50 per cent of the total loans have been written off. No wonder then that these States find themselves in the midst of another round of protests by farmers.

With farmers continuing to reel under mounting debts and several committing suicides as a result, the Narendra Modi government at the Centre too has come in for sharp criticism for failing to fulfil its poll promise of doubling farm incomes in five years. In fact, Yogi Adityanath government's failure to fulfil one of its key poll promises-- facilitating purchase of all sugarcane produce and timely payment of arrears to sugarcane farmers-- cost it the Kairana Lok Sabha byelection in a State where sugarcane is a major crop.

No wonder then that the Opposition, particularly the Congress, is exploiting the issue of farm distress to the hilt, especially in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, where Assembly elections will be held later this year.

With an eye on the polls, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has announced that his party will write off all farm loans within 15 days of coming to power in Madhya Pradesh. And he made the announcement in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, on the first anniversary of the police firing on a farmers' protest rally in which six persons were killed.

Congress leader from Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot, has also targeted Modi, saying the Prime Minister has forgotten the promises made to farmers during elections which has forced them to come on the roads in protest. Similarly Sharad Pawar, who has a stake in Maharashtra as well as in sugar cooperatives in the State, has not only come out out in open support of the agitating farmers but has also urged them to raise the tempo of their ongoing protests.

The ruling BJP at the Centre and in States, thus, has an arduous task at hand. It has to pacify the farmers with the same promises it has failed to fulfil in the past. Loan waiver is one such issue which every party knows is not an easy one to settle amicably and yet every party promises it. Perhaps, because it is such a convenient tool to mollify the farmers with it's an easy way out.

But rural distress, that claims thousands of lives every year in the countryside, can have no easy solution. Governments can't afford to make hollow promises to farmers elections after elections, protests after protests. Farmers are the backbone of our economy. And the backbone needs to be strengthened to enable the economy to stand on its feet. According experts our farmers face a crisis of producing too much in good years leading to fall of prices and of too little in years of drought. As such which middlemen flourish, farmers are forced to commit suicides.

Yashwardhan Joshi is a Journalist of long standing and commentator on issues of Administration and Social Issues.

—[IFS]


News Updated at : Monday, June 11, 2018
 
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