Suicides mirror drought-hit Odisha’s growing farm crisis

  • Priya Ranjan Sahu, Hindustan Times, Bhubaneswar
  • Updated: Oct 13, 2015 23:03 IST

Debt and drought have reportedly forced five Odisha farmers to commit suicide in as many days, prompting the human rights commission on Tuesday to take note of the state’s deepening farm crisis.

The farmers — all of them in their 40s — allegedly took the drastic step after their paddy crop wilted because of scanty rainfall and they have loans to repay. In another case, it was cotton.

At least 12 farmers in Odisha have committed suicide since January because of similar reasons, though the unofficial death toll is pegged at 25. Most of the deaths have been reported from Bargarh district, known as the state’s rice bowl.

The recent suicide spate prompted the state human rights commission to seek a report from the revenue and disaster management within four weeks.

According to reports, Magasir Majhi of of Bargarh district and Dambarudhar Ada of Nuapada district consumed pesticide and died on Tuesday while Abhimanyu Baliarsingh from Khurda district killed himself in a similar manner on Sunday. Sanatan Mirdha, a farmer in Sambalpur district, drank pesticide on Friday while another farmer, Bhakta Dharua, from Balangir hanged himself from a tree.

Villagers said Mirdha, who had cultivated paddy in three acres, had borrowed Rs 38,000 from a moneylender while Dharua had borrowed Rs 17,000 from a government bank to buy a water pump. Baliarsingh had taken loans from various banks and was under stress as lack of water had badly affected his crop.

The deaths reflect a familiar story across the country’s countryside, especially in drought-hit Maharashtra and the twin states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where a devastating agrarian crisis has sparked a political debate over the government’s ability to tackle farm emergencies.

Odisha agriculture minister Pradeep Maharathy promised appropriate action. “I have asked the district collectors to probe the circumstances leading to their deaths.”

More than 3600 farmers, including 474 women, have committed suicide in Odisha in the past 15 years, Maharathy said in the assembly on August 21. But he asserted that the suicides had nothing to do with crop loss or related to other agricultural issues.

Compared with Maharashtra, Andhra and Telangana, there have been fewer reports of farmer 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 show that all is not well in the state’s farm sector that is mostly rice-centric.

On September 10, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi launched a “save farmer march” in Bargarh putting Odisha’s farm crisis on the national map.

Scanty rainfall has affected agricultural activities in more than 100 blocks in 23 of 30 districts in Odisha. More than 70% people depend on agriculture in Odisha, which produces about 10% of the country’s total rice output. The impending drought may upset the state’s food grain production target of 10 million tonne in the 2015 kharif season.

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