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Tragedy in white: In Telangana, cotton season also means more farmer suicides

When cotton season starts in June/July and ends in September/October, it also the period in which farmer suicides are reported from the state as crop failures and loans burden families here.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2017 07:13 IST
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu
Srinivasa Rao Apparasu
Hindustan Times, Hyderabad
Telangana,Cotton farmers,Telangana farmers
Deceased farmer Kale Jaipal’s brother Kale Balraj in his field. Jaipal, 36, committed suicide after his cotton crop failed despite repeated sowing and huge investments for the second year in a row. (HT Photo)

Thirty-six-year-old Kale Jaipal sowed cotton seeds in nine acres of land in July this year, hoping to raise bumper crop and clear all his debts from previous years.

But, that dream was short-lived as the crop failed despite repeated sowing and huge investments. He ended his life last week at his village – Turpuguduem in Yadadri Bhongir district of Telangana.

“For the second successive year, he suffered huge losses. The cotton crop failed him again and he feared he might not be able to pay even for the agriculture labourers, leave alone friends and relatives from whom he had taken seven acres of land on lease,” Jaipal’s brother Kale Balraj told Hindustan Times.

In the last 10 days, at least a dozen farmers have reportedly committed suicide in cotton growing regions of Telangana, and there have been protests against the government’s failure to procure the raw cotton that is not fetching good price in the open market.

The cotton season starts in June and July and ends in September/October, also the period in which farmer suicides are reported from the state. In 1998, the first BT Cotton season, over 100 farmer suicides were reported from the region then part of Andhra Pradesh.

In the present cases, the reasons cited by the victims’ families for the suicides were failure of crops due to spurious Bt cotton seeds, poor yield of cotton, damage of crops due to unseasonal rains in October and lack of remunerative price to whatever little quantity of cotton the farmers could raise, on the pretext of high percentage of humidity.

“We had to sow cotton seed three times but twice, there was only vegetative growth but no flowering. Only the third time, we could get some yield. For nine acres, the yield was 20 quintals, as against normal yield of 60-70 quintals. What is worse, heavy rains in October damaged even this little yield causing a lot of humidity,” said Jaipal’s mother Teresamma.

Seed dealers, however, deny indulging in any malpractices.

“We sell only certified and branded Bt cotton seeds approved by the authorities,” S Pentaiah, proprietor of Chaitanya Seeds and Fertilisers at Choutuppal in Yadadri Bhongir district. “There is a possibility that some batches of seeds may turn out to be of poor quality. Farmers also buy seeds from unregistered dealers for lesser price and suffer losses”.

According to the agriculture department estimates, farmers had raised cotton in over 49 lakh acres this year, compared to around 30 lakh acres last year, since farmers were attracted by the price of Rs 5,500 the crop fetched for each quintal.

In the normal conditions, an acre of crop yields around 7-9 quintals of cotton but this year the production has been one-fourth. The overall expenditure incurred by farmers including wages of labourers and cost of transporting produce to the market is around Rs 12,000 per acre.

“On an average, there should be a profit of at least Rs 25,000 per acre for the farmer in ideal conditions,” said Bandi Krishnamurthy, another cotton farmer, whose brother B Chandramouli committed suicide five years ago due to crop failure. “This year, it was not even 1-2 quintals per acre and that, too, of poor quality cotton.”

Such was the state that in several villages, farmers were forced to destroy and set fire to their crops as there was no yield even after two or three sowings.

“What is the point in keeping the crop when there is no yield even after spending Rs 2 lakh?” asked Kandala Mahender Reddy of Valigonda in Yadadri Bhongir district, who cut down his four-acre crop.

Farmers have accused the government of not preventing sale of spurious seeds.

“We bought Bt cotton seeds from Gajwel in Siddipet district, besides Jangaon and Alair markets. The seeds were sold in attractive packets and we were told the yield would be higher than last year. It was only at the vegetative growth stage did we realise that we were cheated,” Krishnamurthy said.

According to Telangana Rythu Sangham state vice-president Nunna Nageswara Rao, the Central government has fixed minimum support price of Rs 4,320 and the state government should give an additional bonus of at least Rs 1,000 to help distressed farmers.

“However, traders in the market yards are offering just Rs 2,300 to a maximum of Rs 3,500 depending on the quality of cotton, moisture content which should not exceed 12 per cent and colour,” he alleged.

The high moisture content – this time around 18% – adversely impact process of turning cotton into fabric.

Minister for Agriculture Pocharam Srinivas Reddy said the government had already taken steps to buy cotton at a higher rate than the MSP in several centres.

“We have also requested the Cotton Corporation of India (CCI) to procure cotton even with 15 per cent humidity. We have also written to the Centre to make public sector insurance companies implement weather-based crop insurance scheme for cotton by taking farmer as a unit,” he said.

First Published: Nov 10, 2017 07:13 IST