In Saurashtra, death better than debt
According to government records, at least 489 farmers have committed suicide in some rain-parched regions since 2003, reports Neelesh Misra.india Updated: Dec 01, 2007 01:16 IST
At some point during the night of November 1 last year, Mansukhbhai Kakkani, 45, his wife, father and mother quietly left their village in Saurashtra for the Somnath Temple. Two days later their bodies were found in the Arabian Sea.
Mansukhbhai's three sons were in Surat, polishing diamonds, a few pieces of which would be enough to pay off the family debt of Rs 3 lakh.
The Kakkanis are one of the many farmer suicides in a Gujarat that is billed as one of India's best-governed states. But even as Narendra Modi's Gujarat surged on development indices, many of its citizens in rain-thirsty areas got left far behind.
According to government records, at least 489 farmers have committed suicide in some rain-parched regions since 2003, and over 6,000 have had "accidental deaths" — a figure opponents say is those farmers who deaths were not registered as suicides.
"If we include non-farmers, there are some 17,000 'accidental deaths' in villages according to facts presented in the Assembly. I challenge the government to prove that most of these were not related to rising debts," said Paresh Dhanani, a Congress lawmaker from Amreli district in Saurashtra where Mansukhbhai lived.
Gujarat has been crisscrossed by droughts, especially in the regions of Saurashtra, Kachchh, North Gujarat and Panchmahals.
In Paria Dev village, Mansukhbhai was facing the same crisis in 2001 as thousands of other farmers: very little water, and whatever there was, was saline.
"He wanted to take an electricity connection and get a motor to suck water from the earth for his cotton crop. But first, to test whether there was water available at all, he hooked into the electricity line," said his 22-year-old son Piyush.
There was water but electricity board officials imposed a fine of Rs 2.5 lakh. The farmer had illegally tapped into the electricity wires.
That set off a devastating cycle. To pay the department, Mansukhbhai mortgaged his land and took loans from moneylenders at the rate of 60 per cent per annum. Year on year, there were bad crops. Irrigation facilities were sketchy. The power supply was erratic in early years, and later too expensive for them, the family said.
"Crops were going bad every year. The debt kept rising. It came to a state where the loan had become Rs 10.5 lakh," said Nileshbhai, his brother.
"We got nothing from the government — but we want at least one thing," Piyush said. "The government should take steps that no other farmer dies like my parents and grandparents."