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India sees fresh wave of farmer suicides

Vidarbha epicentre again, 680 suicides in 6 Maharashtra districts. Zia Haq reports.

delhi Updated: Dec 07, 2011 00:42 IST
Zia Haq

A fresh wave of farmer suicides has been reported in several states, pushing families deeper into poverty. A coalition of farm-sector organisations said it had identified over 700 cases this year, but state government officials said they were still verifying the incidents.

“Vidarbha in Maharashtra has emerged as the epicentre of farmer suicides again. There have been 680 suicides in just 6 districts in 2011,” said Kishor Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samithi, whose organisation has been recording such cases for a decade. The official farmer suicide count for the state in 2010 was 152.

According to the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA), over 90 farmers have committed suicides in six districts of Andhra Pradesh in the month during Oct–Nov 2011. “We believe this situation needs national attention,” a spokesperson for the alliance said.

The suicides threaten to undo recent gains from India’s improved farm-credit policy, including the state-sponsored 2008 windfall loan waiver scheme, easier loans and higher floor prices.

“We are investigating the cases. In the past month or so, eight farmers have ended their lives in Wayanad district because of ginger prices crashing,” Kerala farm minister KP Mohanan told HT over phone.

In Andhra Pradesh, deputy chief minister Damodar Raja Narasihma said district collectors were verifying cases.

Causes of such suicides are hotly contested: while governments tend to claim these are largely due to indebtedness unrelated to farming, campaigners blame lopsided policies. However, new triggers are being blamed, such as climate change and inflation. A weakening rupee against the US dollar has led to a Rs 3,500-a-tonne increase in fertiliser prices, according to the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited.

On the other hand, ginger prices in Kerala crashed from R3,000 a quintal last year to Rs 600 now, according to Kerala’s farm minister.