Manisha, 18, a resident of Gowraipally village in Seddipet district of Telangana, lost her parents when she was just 15 years old. They didn’t die of natural causes. It was the system that had failed them and forced them to commit suicide.
Manisha’s parents were farmers and had taken seven acres of land on lease for farming for cultivating cotton. Her father had taken a loan of Rs 3 lakh from a private money lender. But after the crops failed two consequtive times, because of bad quality of seeds and draught, the lender who had given them the sum started asking them to return it.
Distressed and unable to cope with the situation, the helpless father had no option but to commit suicide. On the morning of November 22, 2014, he went to the field and never returned. He had consumed poison and ended his life.
But the family’s woes did not end here. The money lender kept returning to his house, pressuring them to return the borrowed sum. One day, he took away with him the only bullockart the family had. Unable to see the miserable condition of the family, Manisha’s mother also took an extreme step and killed herself on February 27, 2015.
Manisha (who had to leave studies after class 12) and her bother Nitin (who is studying in the ninth standard) are being taken care of by their grandfather, a class four government employee who gets pension.
“No government representative has ever visited us in these three years. We got no compensation. Who will take care of us after our grandfather’s death. How will we survive. I did not even have a ration card. The PDS scheme is a far fetched dream for us,” Manisha told NewsClick on Monday.
She was a part of the historic Kisan Mukti Sansad being organised by 184 farmers’ organisation from across the country at Parliament Street under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC). Hundreds of family members of the farmers who committed suicide all over the country also took part in the gathering of over 40,000 people.
Paniben Valjibhai Solanki from Patri Taluka in Surendra Nagar district of Gujarat also lost her husband who had taken a loan of Rs 5 lakh (Rs 2 lakh from a bank and rest from a money lender) to cultivate wheat and cumin on his 10 acres of land. But the crop failed because of less rain. The crop they harvested did not get good amount from the market.
They had to sell wheat for Rs 600 per quintal; however, the expenditure was much higher. “Earlier, Rs 5,000 was enough for everything (from seeds to irrigation and fertilisers) to cultivate crops on five acres of land. But it has now gone up to Rs 50,000. We used to get water for free for irrigation. Now, the water costs us Rs 20,000 for five acres of land,” she said.
She said, unwilling to bear the family expenses and the borrowed sum to return, her husband hanged himself. “There is no one to listen to us. Modi talks about Gujarat development but has forgotten the plight of farmers in his state,” said the distressed but angry women.
Among them was also 37-year-old Manjula, wife of Aleti Narsimha Gaund, from Puligilla village in Yadadiri district of Telangana. Gaud committed suicide on November 10, 2014 after could not return Rs 5 lakh that he had borrowed from a money lender to grow cotton on his seven acres of land.
Crop failure, lower market price (Rs 2,000-3,000 per quintal) and accumulated debt forced him to take the extereme step.
Manjula now works as daily wage labourer and earns Rs 100-150 per day to support her family which includes her two children (one son who is pursuing graduation and the other who is in standard 12). Though she got an ex-gratia of Rs 2 lakh from the government after pressure was mounted by the activists, most of the amount was spent on clearing a portion of the debt.
Mounting Agrarian Distress
# At least one farmer is committing suicide every hour in India
# There has been a 42% rise in the number of suicides by cultivators between 2014 and 2015.
# 58% of the suicides among cultivators are due to debt and crop failures.
# Bankruptcy and indebtedness witnessed the sharpest spike in last three years, registering an almost three-fold increase as compared to 2014.
# 91% of farmer suicides in India are recorded in six states Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telengana and Karnataka, and the BJP-ruled Maharashtra tops the list.
# The income from farming would never enable a farmer to be out of the debt trap. The Economic Survey (2015-16) admits that the average annual income of the median farmer from cultivation, net of production costs, is less than Rs 20,000. That translates to an income of less than Rs 1,600 per month per farmer.
Yet Another Jumla on Minimum Support Price?
Before being elected the prime minister, Narendra Modi promised to honour the M S Swaminathan Committee recommendations and pay farmers a minimum support price (MSP) that will ensure 50% profitability over costs. But this promise also turned into another “jumla”.
Kisan Ki Loot
The AIKSCC has calculated that for the top seven crops (paddy, maize, soybean, cotton, bajra, groundnut and urad) in the kharif season 2017 – 18, farmers have already lost Rs 6,283 crores compared to the prevailing MSP.
According to the same study, for the total crop that would be sold by farmers this season the estimated loss compared to prevailing MSP will shoot upto Rs 35,968 crores. And when compared to the promised MSP, i.e., the cost of production + 50%, the loss faced by farmers is more than the mammoth amoount of Rs 2 lakh crores.
The study further found that among the 14 crops of Kharif 2017-18, the MSPs for seven crops have been fixed less than the cost of production and for the other seven crops, the margin above cost of production is merely 2% to 19%.
Lakhs and Crores of Loan Waivers for Corporates, Bullets for Farmers!
The protesters alleged that the Modi government showers tax and loan waivers to Adanis and Ambanis, and showers bullets on the country’s farmers when they seek loan waivers and minimum support price.
In UP elections, the BJP made grand promise of loan waiver for farmers. It is now widely reported how, in course of the ‘post election implementation’ of this promise, farmers in UP are being handed over certificates waiving off their loans by 1 paisa, 19 paisa, Re. 1, Rs. 2 etc.
Brazen Double Standards in Discourse and Policy
It is also important to note, that both Government representatives and big media, term crores of tax and even loan waivers to rich corporates as “incentives”, while they like to call it “subsidy” and a burden – when the demand for loan waivers and MSP comes from the farmers. It is shameful that both the Government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the regulator of banking sector, have maintained a shameful secrecy about the list of wilful corporate defaulters. In contrast, the farmers who fail to return their crop loan of a mere Rs 15,000 or so due to low minimum support price or hostile climate are named and shamed by the same banks by posting their names and photo’s on the bulletin boards, pushing them to humiliation and death.
The AIKSCC put forward the following demands:
Fair and remunerative returns on farmers’ hard work, which is at least 50% above the total cost of production. The farmer organizations have demanded this for all crops and other produce like milk as well as minor forest produce, and such a price made into a statutorily-guaranteed price for all farmers so that it is not just a price announced, but a price realized by all farmers.
Freedom from Debt through a permanent institutional mechanism which is not only an immediate loan waiver but also institutional and non-institutional loans of all farmers, and continuous support to farmers burdened by debt. Government must also ensure effective crop insurance, disaster compensation and promotion of low or no-cost farming.