Amid reports of economy taking a brutal hit, the ongoing coronavirus induced lockdown has managed to do what farm loan waivers and debt write-offs couldn’t do in last three years in Punjab. The state has witnessed a sharp decline in cases of suicides by farmers and farm labourers.
In the two months of March and April this year, Punjab recorded a 50% decrease in such suicides as compared to the corresponding period in previous years.
Punjab government on March 23 had imposed curfew in state, two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the nationwide lockdown that came into effect on March 25.
As per the data sourced from the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), which has been collecting the numbers from media reports of the suicides, and crosschecked against cases registered by the police since 2016-17, a total of 16 farmers and farm labourers took the extreme step in April this year while 27 killed themselves in March this year.
Ninety one such suicides — 41 in April and 50 in March — were reported in the corresponding period last year. The figure was 80 — 30 in April and 50 in March — in 2018.
Compared to last year, 61 per cent fewer suicides were reported in April this year, and 47 per cent less when compared to 2018.
Similarly, 46 per cent less suicides by farmers and farm labourers were recorded in March this year, compared to corresponding month last year and 2018.
“We are relieved to some extent that farmer suicides have decreased this year,” said Sukhpal Singh, BKU-Ugrahan leader and record keeper of such suicides. He said that the decrease could be attributed to the ongoing lockdown due to the corona crisis.
Farm expert and former Professor of economics at Punjabi University, Patiala, Gian Singh, said that due to the lockdown, farmers have come together through social media and in some places they have collectively decided on various issues, including paying hefty rent for the land they took on contract and which often pushes them under heavy debts. “This feeling of collectiveness has also acted as a deterrent against those thinking of taking the extreme step. Earlier, a debt-ridden farmer used to think that he is alone and no one will support him. But with lockdown bringing them together, even though on social media, they are finding support in each other,” said Prof Singh.
The pandemic, the former professor said, has kept the farmers busy as this year the wheat harvesting was delayed and the procurement has been staggered till June 15.
Punjab contributes maximum 46 per cent of wheat to the central pool. Despite a major shortage of labour, both in the fields and the mandis, Punjab has already procured 11.5 million tonnes of grain out of 13.5 million tonnes that it has to contribute to the central pool.
“Farmers are the unsung heroes of the country in this hour of need,” added Prof Singh.
“In Punjab, out of 14.08 lakh farmer households, around 65 per cent farmers have less than two hectares in holdings, which is unviable for earning a living due to high input costs. By keeping the issue of huge debt on them aside at this hour, these farmers have been working hard to fill the government’s granaries which may have kept the Suicide rate low. Now, the government should secure them financially by waiving off their seasonal crop loans at least,” said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) Dakaunda Ekta.
“When farmers are working hard in the time of this pandemic, government should pay them as per the MS Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations, which guaranteed at least 50 per cent return and cost of production, and keeping them away from having suicidal thoughts and suicides as well,” added Jagmohan.
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