At least two farmers committed suicide in last one week; it includes one who was fifth male in his family to take the extreme step. While Punjab government says it has waived off loans worth Rs 5,000 crore, farm bodies say 1280 farmers committed suicide in past two and half years. The Indian Express looks at claims and counter-claims
What would it take for farmers to stop killing themselves – one time-loan waiver, bar on kurki of land and property or something else?
Experts, farmers and farm leaders stand divided as Punjab recorded two more suicides this week, including that by a farmer in Barnala, who became the fifth member in his family to take the extreme step as he was allegedly unable to pay an old loan of Rs 8 lakh. The farmer was only 22 years old.
The suicide by Lovepreet Singh in Barnala’s Bhotna village is yet another in series of farms deaths plaguing the state that has been variously called the bread-basket of India or granary of India.
Sample this: Punjab government has waived off loans worth Rs 5,256 crore of 8.68 lakh farmers and farm labourers in two and a half years.
Despite this, the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), claims that 1,280 farmers/farm labourers have committed suicide in state in the period April 1, 2017 to August 31, 2019.
The outfit claims to have collected the date from various police stations, villages, revenue department record as well as media reports. Around 99% of these farmers belonged to Malwa region and had loan ranging between R 2 lakh to Rs 25 lakh, the outfit claims.
“As per our records, maximum 230 suicides took place in Sangrur, while Bathinda and Mansa are placed second and third with 180 and 120 suicides, respectively in the same period,” said Sukhpal Singh Manak of BKU (Ugrahan). He said that from March 2017 to December 2018, nearly 900 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide, while 380 such suicides were recorded in past eight months.
Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, the general secretary of the outfit, claimed that only 309 such suicides were recorded in 2016-17 during previous SAD-BJP government. “The numbers are now up increasing because of the non-favorable policies of the central government where the corporate houses are given preference over the farmers,” he added.
Punjab Minister Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria said the state government has been collecting the data of farmers’ suicide but at the moment he cannot tell the number as the data must be with the agriculture department. “Our government has provided a huge relief to farmers despite not getting any help from the Centre. We appeal to farmers not to take any such step and instead approach the government,” he said.
A senior officer in Punjab government said that in past over two years more than 1000 farmers and farm labourers have committed suicide and both Punjab Agriculture Department and Revenue department of Punjab is supposed to keep the record through field officers and patwaris. respectively but due to lack of such staff across the state, “100 per cent record is not available with government”.
The question, however, remains why despite such huge debt waiver, there was no stopping such suicides.
While farmers, farm unions and experts are divided, most agree that there is a need for one time complete loan waiver of small, marginal and medium farmers, stop kurki and check private money lenders.
Lovepreet’s mother Harmail Kaur confirmed that he was fifth person in the family to take his life. “His father, Kulwant Singh, had committed suicide by hanging himself on January 6, 2018, a day before state government launched the first phase of the debt waiver,” she said.
He had not been able to pay Rs 8 lakh loan taken from ‘Arhtiyas, and private banks. “We had taken around 8-acre land on lease at the rate of Rs 50,000 per acre annual rent but due to hail storm in 2017, our wheat crop got damaged. We could never recover from that,” she said.
The state government had waived Rs 57,000 loan that Kulwant had taken from Cooperative Society against the one acre land that the family owns.
The debt story is common across Punjab.
Farm unions say that Punjab farmers have a cumulative debt of nearly Rs one lakh crore, which includes 34 per cent from the non-institutional bodies like finance companies and private money lenders including Arhtiyas (commission agents).
“The government needs to tale care of loans taken from arhtiyas and private money lenders,” said Jagmohan Singh, the general secretary of BKU Dakaunda. He said that there was no check on the private money lenders and Banks, which were doling out huge amounts in ‘crop loans’,
“I have three-acre land but a private bank gave me Rs 15 lakh crop loan by assessing the actual value of land at around Rs 60 lakh,” said Jagtar Singh from a Jalandhar village. He now says that he made a mistake by taking such huge loan. “I am not able to pay the interest, leave alone the principal,” he said.
Jagmohan said government needs to cover small, marginal and medium farmers under complete loan waiver. It should include all loans take before and after March 31, 2017.
Kokrikalan said that government has not completely banned kurki (attachment of land). “Pronotes” (promissory notes) – a written document taken from farmers with their signature – was still prevalent and must be banned.
Based on case studies of farmers who committed suicide, Prof Kesar Singh Bhangu, department of Economics, Punjabi University Patiala, said that in several cases non -institutional bodies, which charge whopping 28 to 30 per cent rate of interest, forced farmers to take the extreme step . The government needs to bring an effective ‘Money Lending Act’ to control such bodies, he said.
Sardara Singh Johal, renowned agricultural economist said that for stopping suicides there was a need to take up cases of individual farmers at district level
Meanwhile, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) spokesman and former minister Daljit Singh Cheema claimed that there was hardly any day when one or two farmers didn’t commit suicide. “It is happening because of false hopes evoked among them by the Congress party, which in the run up to the 2017 Assembly polls promised total loan waiver. Several farmers stopped paying the loan installment and turned defaulters. When this promise was not met, farmers got disappointed and several went into depression and many committed suicide,” he said
AAP MLA and Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema said that the “loan waiver policy has failed badly. “Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had said that all types of the debt will be waived off but after coming to power they put several conditions,” he said, adding that they made a committee to study ‘suicide trend’ but not a single recommendation of this committee was met by the government while half of its term is over.