Renowned agriculture economist and Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, chancellor Dr SS Johl has dismissed the widely-held viewpoint that debt was the only reason for farmer suicides in the state.
"Debt is just one of the many factors. There are multiple factors that drive a farmer to suicide," he said, while speaking at a function to mark the launch of a project, 'Agents of Change'.
The programme aims to train 700 students of the agriculture department of Khalsa College to fill a pro forma based on their interaction with farmers. Taking the feedback and the responses as a guideline, the Centre for International Projects Trust (CIPT), New Delhi, and the state agriculture department will prepare a report on the issues confronting the agrarian sector in Punjab.
The 'Agents of Change' programme will be run by the CIPT and the agriculture department of the Khalsa College.
At the lecture, Johal added other other factors responsible for suicides include genetic factors, family size, family disputes and many more.
"It also needs to be emphasised that in the last decade or so, the percentage of suicides had remained constant," he said, adding that in previous years farmer suicides had simply gone unreported by the media.
'Punjab farmers overspend'
Questioning the studies on farmers suicides in Punjab and linking it solely with the debt factor, Johl said, "Farmers in Rajasthan or say Gujarat own less land and that too which is not fertile and are poorer than the Punjabi farmer, but yet the suicide rate here is higher."
Elaborating, he pointed out farmers in the state got trapped in the vicious debt circle and over-spend in comparison to their monthly earnings and this not the case in most other states, he added.
Johl also questioned the agriculture loans that banks give to farmers, saying, "The loans being given to farmers who only sow wheat and paddy is on the higher side. The amount of loan should depend on the number of crops a farmer sows. So our banks don't give credit but debt."
'Banks don't monitor loans'
He was highly critical of the banks not keeping a tab on the utilisation of the loan by farmers in Punjab. In most cases the loan is diverted elsewhere as a result the repaying capacity of farmers declines, he added.
Referring to the state government's decision to get yet another survey on farmers suicides conducted, Johal advised the government to find solutions to this problem instead of conducting repeated surveys.
'Diversification a far goal'
Johl who has over the years laid stress on diversification to save agriculture in Punjab, lamented that the state had not moved an inch in breaking the
wheat-paddy cropping pattern. This had exhausted the state's natural resources - groundwater and soil, he added.
"Farmers will not move away from the wheat-paddy pattern if the government continues with free power facility to the agrarian sector," he added.
A strong advocate of ending agri-subsidies, Johl pointed out that when the government determines the minimum support price (MSP) of crops, the amount of subsidies being given for a crop are accounted for. Hence the farmer gets a far lower MSP than his expectations and then there is a hue and cry, he added while defending his well-known opinion that subsidy never reaches the farmer.
Farmers will not move away from the wheat-paddy pattern if the government continues with free power facility to the agrarian sector.
SS Johl, chancellor, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda
Agents of change programme
The CIPT scheme is the first-ever to be launched in Punjab, which will rope in around 700 students of the Agriculture Department of Khalsa College.
Under the programme, the students will go to selected villages of the state and interact with the farmers. They will fill a form to highlight the issues or problems of the farmers. On the feedback, a document on the issues confronting the agrarian sector in Punjab will be prepared by the CIPT and the agriculture department.
After Johal's lecture, Khalsa College Governing Council honourary secretary Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina and CIPT director Kamal Vatta launched the programme along with Dr Mehal Singh, principal of the college and Dr Sukhdev Singh, the head of agriculture department.