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27 farmers dead: Bengal gets kin to rewrite suicide note

In Burdwan,the state's rice bowl,18 of 27 deaths have been reported in the past 4 months.

Written by Madhuparna Das | Burdwan |
January 26, 2012 9:47:34 pm

While Governor M K Narayanan has also put the weight of his office behind the growing concern over farmer suicides in West Bengal,the Mamata Banerjee government seems determined to play these down.

In Burdwan,the state’s rice bowl,where 18 of the 27 deaths have been reported in the past four months,the district administration has been approaching families of victims for written statements saying the suicides had nothing to do with debt burden or distress sale of crops. Despite evidence of piles of paddy lying unsold and of debts owed by farmers mounting,these statements attribute the deaths to everything else from “emotional stress” to “family discord”.

The suicides in Burdwan follow a surplus production of 12 lakh metric tonnes of paddy,against a requirement of 5 to 6 lakh metric tonnes this season. In other parts of rural Bengal,a shoddy procurement drive ensured that targets fell short by 20 lakh metric tonnes,leaving farmers with paddy they haven’t been able to sell.

What made the problem worse was a decision to bar cooperatives from procuring paddy from farmers. In Burdwan as many as 517 cooperatives used to procure paddy. Instead,the district administration distributed slips to farmers,with the plan being that they could sell directly to the rice millers. However,in many places,millers refused to pay the support price (Rs 1,080 per quintal) as they could procure cheaper paddy from Bihar and Jharkhand.

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Bhatar saw suicides by five farmers in November-December. Safar Mollah of Kalitukri village consumed pesticide on November 18. The 18-year-old had taken up farming at the age of 12,after his father’s death,but run up a debt of Rs 90,000 in two years,said his family. He hoped to repay some of it with the sale of paddy but could not sell his 200 quintals.

Said Riza Bewa,Safar’s mother: “My son was under trauma.” Her other son works in Chennai as a labourer.

As advised by the government,the district administration has procured a written statement from Safar’s family saying he committed suicide after having a fight with his mother the previous night.

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Jharna Saha,wife of 40-year-old farmer Amiya Saha of Rasulpur in Burdwan,who also killed himself,said he was deeply attached to his five-bigha land. “But this season the situation was so bad that he was forced to sell part of it to clear a portion of his outstanding debt. His body was spotted on his land on January 4.”

The written statement procured by the district administration attributes Saha’s suicide to a family dispute.

Said Sheikh Nurul Islam,a farmer in Bhatar: “I have almost 340 quintals of paddy stocked at my house but I am not able to sell. My paddy is perishing. My debts have mounted to Rs 2 lakh. The district administration is not helping us. What option is left for us other than committing suicide?”

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West Bengal Food and Supplies Minister Jyotipriyo Mullick admitted that each district administration had been asked to get written statements in the suicide cases,but added a rider: that the farmers of Burdwan were wealthy. “They do not need to borrow money for cultivating land. I belong to Burdwan and nobody knows the situation better then me,” said Mullick.

District Magistrate Omkar Singh Meena toed the government line on the suicides not being due to debt burden or distress sale,though admitting: “Credit crisis is a genuine problem and looms large over farmer families.”

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First published on: 26-01-2012 at 09:47:34 pm
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