About 1,136 farmers killed themselves in nine years since 2000 in the district, officials said on Tuesday, after being unable to pay debts owing to loss of crop.
Chief agriculture officer Varinder Singh told the Hindustan Times that at least 15 farmers committed suicide from April to June alone this year.
Officials say the deaths came despite the compensation policy having been changed thrice in the last three years. However, many believe the policy changes did little to alleviate the debts of farmers who were, more often than not, either never paid or offered very little.
District revenue officer Gagandeep Singh said until March 31, 2013, the compensation was paid on the recommendations of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, after verifying a death as "genuine suicide".
"The following year, the system was changed. The government constituted district-level committees to verify the genuine cases of suicide. These committees were headed by the respective deputy commissioner with senior superintendent of police and chief agricultural officer (CAO) as its members," he said, adding, "Now, beginning July1, 2015, the government has notified that henceforth, the following committees will identify the suicide death cases. The committees will include deputy commissioner as chairperson, senior superintendent of police, chief medical officer and sarpanch of the village concerned as its members. The CAO has been designated as member-secretary.
Though the compensation amount has been enhanced to `3 lakh from the earlier `2 lakh, but at present, in as many as 56 odd cases, the compensation amount is yet to be paid.
The district revenue officer has, however, said, "The pendency is of old cases and at PAU's level, which has not yet cleared the amount," adding that a sum of `22.50 crore was received for payment of compensation for the period 2000 to 2008 and that it had been disbursed to families of 1,136 farmers.
He added that under the new system of verification, 60 cases were yet to be finalised before the compensation amount was paid.
A government survey reveals that a total of 6,926 farmer suicides took place in Punjab between 2000 and 2011. The three universities, Punjabi University, Patiala; PAU, Ludhiana; and Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar; have again been commissioned to carry out fresh surveys and the districts have been allocated to each, besides making available financial assistance. This has been done on the pressing demand of the Bharti Kisan Union (BKU) factions.
Meanwhile, the data from the National Crime Records Bureau of India shows that nearly 2,25,000 people, involved in farming and agriculture, committed suicide across the country between 2000 and 2013.
BKU's protest enters Day 2
The five-day dharna organised by BKU-Ekta entered the second day on Tuesday. The workers are protesting outside the deputy commissioner office in Patiala. Talking to HT, Joginder Singh Ugraha, president of the union, said, "We are sitting on a dharna to wake up the sleeping government, so that they take concrete steps and make some policies for the farmers."