Calling the issue “sensitive”, the Supreme Court Friday decided to examine policies and schemes of the Centre and state governments to stop farmers’ suicides owing to crop destruction and failure to repay loans. A bench led by Chief Justice of India J S Khehar sought responses from Centre, states and Union Territories, and the RBI within four weeks to scrutinise likely reasons behind suicides by farmers. “The issue is sensitive and involves larger public interest. We call upon the Union of India, states and union territories to arrive at an effective conclusion of the matter through participation in the adjudicatory process,” said the bench, also comprising Justice N V Ramana.
The court was hearing a PIL filed by NGO Citizens Resource and Action and Initiative, which has sought an overhaul of the agriculture policy and provisions for adequate compensation to farmers during drought and other natural calamities. The plea had initially asked for directives to Gujarat government to pay a compensation of Rs 5 lakh each to families of 692 farmers who reportedly committed suicide in the state between January 2003 and October 2012. On Friday, representing the NGO, senior lawyer Colin Gonsalves submitted before the top court that he now wanted the scope of the petition be broadened and that he has adduced statistics relating to farmers’ suicides from across the country. “Reports after reports have been submitted to all governments but the situation remains the same. Please allow me to implead the Centre and states as parties to my petition,” Gonsalves pleaded.
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At this, the bench responded that it was conscious of the “sensitivity” of the problems afflicting the farmers. “It is an issue which affects all of them (farmers) in all states. We understand something should be done for them…especially when it is a case of natural calamity. There should be a policy to deal with it. It is not just about individual farmers… this important aspect of repayment of loan will have to be looked into,” observed the bench. It said Gonsalves did not need to make a formal plea for adding the Centre and states as parties and that the court would do it on its own. “The registry (is directed) to implead the Union of India and all states, and also the RBI since it also makes policies on the subject,” directed the bench.
Appearing for Gujarat government, advocate Preetesh Kapoor said he had no problem if the Centre is made a party to this case since the latter has come up with a crop insurance policy in 2016. To this, Justice Ramana, who was part of the bench that examined a PIL by NGO Swaraj Abhiyan on issues relating to drought in various states last year, remarked: “I had an occasion to examine it in the other matter but we did not find it satisfactory…let them respond now.”
As reported by The Indian Express earlier this month, more than 72 per cent of farmers who commit suicide have less than two hectares of land, latest data on farmer suicides compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau show. According to the NCRB report for the year 2015, less than 2 per cent of farmers who committed suicide were large farmers with more than 10 hectares of land. A hectare of land is roughly equivalent to 2.5 acres. Medium farmers, who have between 2 hectares and 10 hectares of land, contributed a fourth of the 8,007 farmer suicides in the country in 2015. According to the data, small farmers were 45.2 per cent of all victims, while marginal farmers made up 27.4 per cent.