When Hukumchand Meena called his brother-in-law early on May 23, Rameshwar knew it was too late to save the 38-year-old garlic cultivator, who had allegedly consumed poison after prices of the crop hit rock bottom in Rajasthan.
A bumper production coupled with alleged delay in purchase of garlic at fair price through the market intervention scheme (MIS) has hit farmers in the state, who have been forced to sell the crop at throwaway prices. In Kota wholesale mandi, the crop price has dipped to Rs 200-700 per quintal. On Friday, the modal (most-quoted) price of garlic in the mandi was Rs 1,400 per quintal, as against Rs 2,850 per quintal the same day a year ago.
“He (Hukumchand) called me Wednesday morning to say he had consumed poison. He told me to look after his wife and children,” Rameshwar told The Indian Express on Friday.
He added that the farmer was found unconscious near a field in Kota’s Brij Nagar village. He died at a hospital in Kota the same day, becoming the fourth farmer in Hadouti region of the state to commit suicide allegedly after garlic prices fell this year.
“Hukumchand cultivated 25 quintal garlic on 20 bighas, some of which he had taken on rent. As garlic price crashed, he suffered a huge loss,” said Anirudh, Hukumchand’s brother. The farmer had taken a loan of Rs 20 lakh to purchase a tractor and through kisan credit card, he added.
According to Hukumchand’s family, the farmer had registered under the Rajasthan State Co-operative Marketing Federation Ltd’s (RAJFED) market intervention scheme. “…But it was taking very long and till his death, his turn to sell the produce (under MIS) did not come… My brother had no option but to sell some of the crop at the local mandi to pay off labourers, leading to a huge loss,” said Anirudh.
To bail out farmers, RAJFED has been purchasing garlic from farmers at Rs 3,257 per quintal under MIS from April 13. The process will continue till May 31.
Barely 12 hours after Hukumchand’s death, the garlic crisis allegedly claimed its fifth victim — 68-year-old Chaturvuj Meena of Baldevpura village in Baran, a district adjacent to Kota. Meena also consumed poison on Wednesday.
“My father sold a buffalo and borrowed money from a villager to cultivate garlic, but due to the low prices, he sustained a loss of more than Rs 60,000,” said Meghraj, Chaturvuj’s son.
Police have ruled out any connection between Chaturvuj’s death and low garlic prices. “Preliminary investigation suggests neither Chaturvuj nor his family are farmers. They were living on a piece of land as encroachers,” said Dalbeer Singh, SHO, Kawai police station, Baran. He said Chaturvuj was apparently depressed after his wife’s death.
The Congress has slammed the Vasundhara Raje government over the farmer suicides. “The government has turned a blind eye to farmer suicides and are not even acknowledging them,” said state Congress president Sachin Pilot.
Government officials said it was wrong to attribute farmer suicides to low garlic prices. “Registration of farmers, whose produce will be bought under MIS, are under way. It’s not true that there is delay. We are allotting them dates as per due process…The number of farmers is quite high, but we are doing our best to ensure that maximum people benefit from it,” said Veena Pradhan, managing director, RAJFED.