On January 3, Chitrasen Andhaza (35), a farmer from Bhuliabandh village in parched Paikmal block of Odisha’s Bargarh district, committed suicide by consuming pesticide. Four days later, Laxmana Pradhan, another young farmer from Sarasmal village of Dungripali block of neighbouring Sonepur district, followed suit.
Since then, farmers’ suicide has continued unabated across several districts of the state.
On Monday, two farmers – Sudam Biswal (55) of Angul district and Basudeb Bhoi of Balangir district – killed themselves by consuming pesticide, taking the total number of such suicides to 16 this year, officials said even as government inquiry report has revealed that more than 100 blocks in 16 districts of Odisha’s total 30 are reeling under drought.
Unofficial death toll, however, is pegged at 29.
Villagers cite crop loss and debt burden as the alleged reasons of all the suicides. The state government has ordered inquiry into the suicides.
Alarmed by five suicides in equal number of days this month, the Odisha government on October 14 announced a package of Rs.1000 crore that includes subsidies for agricultural inputs, motor pumps, and tuition fee waivers for students in drought-hit areas.
“Farmers affected by drought in kharif crop will be provided fresh finance for rabi cultivation during the current rabi season which has commenced from October 1. This could be to the tune of Rs 4,500 crore,” chief minister Naveen Patnaik said.
“The package for farmers is eyewash and is not going to solve the problem,” said noted farmer leader Ashok Pradhan. He said it was deplorable that till now the government had not acknowledged a single suicide as farm-related.
More than 3,600 farmers, including 474 women, have committed suicide in Odisha in the last 15 years between 1999 and 2013, state agriculture minister Pradeep Maharathy said in the assembly on August 21. However, he asserted that the suicides had nothing to do with crop loss or related to other agricultural issues.
Compared to states like Maharashtra, Andhra, Telengana, there have been fewer reports of farmers’ suicide in Odisha, because paddy cultivation was supposed to be a safer bet than sugarcane or cotton in term of investment and loan burden. But the recent deaths of farmers in Odisha show that all is not well in the state’s farm sector that is mostly paddy-centric.
Pradhan said in the recent years investment in paddy has increased and a single year’s crop failure has potential to damage a farmer’s economy.