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Posts Tagged ‘sainath’

Of luxury cars and lowly tractors

Posted by ajadhind on December 29, 2010

P. Sainath
Even as the media celebrate the Mercedes Benz deal in the Marathwada region as a sign of “rural resurgence,” the latest data show that 17,368 farmers killed themselves in the year of the “resurgence.”
When businessmen from Aurangabad in the backward Marathwada region bought 150 Mercedes Benz luxury cars worth Rs. 65 crore at one go in October, it grabbed media attention. The top public sector bank, State Bank of India, offered the buyers loans of over Rs. 40 crore. “This,” says Devidas Tulzapurkar, president of the Aurangabad district bank employees association, “at an interest rate of 7 per cent.” A top SBI official said the bank was “proud to be part of this deal,” and would “continue to scout for similar deals in the future.”
The value of the Mercedes deal equals the annual income of tens of thousands of rural Marathwada households. And countless farmers in Maharashtra struggle to get any loans from formal sources of credit. It took roughly a decade and tens of thousands of suicides before Indian farmers got loans at 7 per cent interest — many, in theory only. Prior to 2005, those who got any bank loans at all shelled out between 9 and 12 per cent. Several were forced to take non-agricultural loans at even higher rates of interest. Buy a Mercedes, pay 7 per cent interest. Buy a tractor, pay 12 per cent. The hallowed micro-finance institutions (MFIs) do worse. There, it’s smaller sums at interest rates of between 24 and 36 per cent or higher.
Starved of credit, peasants turned to moneylenders and other informal sources. Within 10 years from 1991, the number of Indian farm households in debt almost doubled from 26 per cent to 48.6 per cent. A crazy underestimate but an official number. Many policy-driven disasters hit farmers at the same time. Exploding input costs in the name of ‘market-based prices.’ Crashing prices for their commercial crops, often rigged by powerful traders and corporations. Slashing of investment in agriculture. A credit squeeze as banks moved away from farm loans to fuelling upper middle class lifestyles. Within the many factors driving over two lakh farmers to suicide in 13 years, indebtedness and the credit squeeze rank high. (And MFIs are now among the squeezers).
What remained of farm credit was hijacked. A devastating piece in The Hindu (Aug. 13) showed us how. Almost half the total “agricultural credit” in the State of Maharashtra in 2008 was disbursed not by rural banks but by urban and metro branches. Over 42 per cent of it in just Mumbai — stomping ground of large corporations rather than of small farmers.
Even as the media celebrate our greatest car deal ever as a sign of “rural resurgence,” the subject of many media stories, comes the latest data of the National Crime Records Bureau. These show a sharp increase in farm suicides in 2009 with at least 17,368 farmers killing themselves in the year of “rural resurgence.” That’s over 7 per cent higher than in 2008 and the worst numbers since 2004. This brings the total farm suicides since 1997 to 216,500. While all suicides have multiple causes, their strong concentration within regions and among cash crop farmers is an alarming and dismal trend.
The NCRB, a wing of the Union Home Ministry, has been tracking farm suicide data since 1995. However, researchers mostly use their data from 1997 onwards. This is because the 1995 and 1996 data are incomplete. The system was new in 1995 and some big States such as Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan sent in no numbers at all that year. (In 2009, the two together saw over 1,900 farm suicides). By 1997, all States were reporting and the data are more complete.
The NCRB data end at 2009 for now. But we can assume that 2010 has seen at least 16,000 farmers’ suicides. (After all, the yearly average for the last six years is 17,104). Add this 16,000 to the total 2,16,500. Also add the incomplete 1995 and 1996 numbers — that is 24,449 suicides. This brings the 1995-2010 total to 2,56,949. Reflect on this figure a moment.
It means over a quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide since 1995. It means the largest wave of recorded suicides in human history has occurred in this country in the past 16 years. It means one-and-a-half million human beings, family members of those killing themselves, have been tormented by the tragedy. While millions more face the very problems that drove so many to suicide. It means farmers in thousands of villages have seen their neighbours take this incredibly sad way out. A way out that more and more will consider as despair grows and policies don’t change. It means the heartlessness of the Indian elite is impossible to imagine, leave alone measure.
Note that these numbers are gross underestimates to begin with. Several large groups of farmers are mostly excluded from local counts. Women, for instance. Social and other prejudice means that, most times, a woman farmer killing herself is counted as suicide — not as a farmer’s suicide. Because the land is rarely in a woman’s name.
Then there is the plain fraud that some governments resort to. Maharashtra being the classic example. The government here has lied so many times that it contradicts itself thrice within a week. In May this year, for instance, three ‘official’ estimates of farm suicides in the worst-hit Vidarbha region varied by 5,500 per cent. The lowest count being just six in four months (See “How to be an eligible suicide,” The Hindu, May 13, 2010).
The NCRB figure for Maharashtra as a whole in 2009 is 2,872 farmers’ suicides. So it remains the worst State for farm suicides for the tenth year running. The ‘decline’ of 930 that this figure represents would be joyous if true. But no State has worked harder to falsify reality. For 13 years, the State has seen a nearly unrelenting rise. Suddenly, there’s a drop of 436 and 930 in 2008 and 2009. How? For almost four years now, committees have functioned in Vidarbha’s crisis districts to dismiss most suicides as ‘non-genuine.’ What is truly frightening is the Maharashtra government’s notion that fixing the numbers fixes the problem.
Yet that problem is mounting. Perhaps the State most comparable to Maharashtra in terms of population is West Bengal. Though its population is less by a few million, it has more farmers. Both States have data for 15 years since 1995. Their farm suicide annual averages in three-five year periods starting then are revealing. Maharashtra’s annual average goes up in each period. From 1,963 in the five years ending with 1999 to 3,647 by 2004. And scaling 3,858 by 2009. West Bengal’s yearly average registers a gradual drop in each five-year period. From 1,454 in 1999 to 1,200 in 2004 to 1,014 by 2009. While it has more farmers, its farm suicide average for the past five years is less than a third of Maharashtra’s. The latter’s yearly average has almost doubled since 1999.
The share of the Big 5 ‘suicide belt’ States — Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — remains close to two-thirds of all farm suicides. Sadly 18 of 28 States reported higher farm suicide numbers in 2009. In some the rise was negligible. In others, not. Tamil Nadu showed the biggest increase of all States, going from 512 in 2008 to 1060 in 2009. Karnataka clocked in second with a rise of 545. And Andhra Pradesh saw the third biggest rise — 309 more than in 2008. A few though did see a decline of some consequence in their farm suicide annual average figures for the last six years. Three — Karnataka, Kerala and West Bengal — saw their yearly average fall by over 350 in 2004-09 compared to the earlier seven years.
Things will get worse if existing policies on agriculture don’t change. Even States that have managed some decline across 13 years will be battered. Kerala, for instance, saw an annual average of 1,371 farm suicides between 1997 and 2003. From 2004-09, its annual average was 1016 — a drop of 355. Yet Kerala will suffer greatly in the near future. Its economy is the most globalised of any State. Most crops are cash crops. Any volatility in the global prices of coffee, pepper, tea, vanilla, cardamom or rubber will affect the State. Those prices are also hugely controlled at the global level by a few corporations.
Already bludgeoned by the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), Kerala now has to contend with the one we’ve gotten into with ASEAN. And an FTA with the European Union is also in the offing. Kerala will pay the price. Even prior to 2004, the dumping of the so-called “Sri Lankan pepper” (mostly pepper from other countries brought in through Sri Lanka) ravaged the State. Now, we’ve created institutional frameworks for such dumping. Economist Professor K. Nagaraj, author of the biggest study of farm suicides in India, says: “The latest data show us that the agrarian crisis has not relented, not gone away.” The policies driving it have also not gone away.
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Posted in ANDHRAPRADESH, CHHATISGARH, IN NEWS, KARNATAKA, MADHYAPRADESH, MAHARASHTRA | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

17,368 farm suicides in 2009

Posted by ajadhind on December 29, 2010

source – hindu

MUMBAI: At least 17,368 Indian farmers killed themselves in 2009, the worst figure for farm suicides in six years, according to data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). This is an increase of 1,172 over the 2008 count of 16,196. It brings the total farm suicides since 1997 to 2,16,500. The share of the Big 5 States, or ‘suicide belt’ — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — in 2009 remained very high at 10,765, or around 62 per cent of the total, though falling nearly five percentage points from 2008. Maharashtra remained the worst State for farm suicides for the tenth successive year, reporting 2,872. Though that is a fall of 930, it is still 590 more than in Karnataka, second worst, which logged 2,282 farm suicides.
Economist K. Nagaraj, author of the biggest study on Indian farm suicides, says, “That these numbers are rising even as the farmer population shrinks, confirms the agrarian crisis is still burning.”
Maharashtra has logged 44,276 farm suicides since 1997, over a fifth of the total 2,16,500. Within the Big 5, Karnataka saw the highest increase of 545 in 2009. Andhra Pradesh recorded 2,414 farm suicides — 309 more than in 2008. Madhya Pradesh (1,395) and Chhattisgarh (1,802) saw smaller increases of 16 and 29. Outside the Big 5, Tamil Nadu doubled its tally with 1,060, against 512 in 2008. In all, 18 of 28 States reported higher farm suicide numbers in 2009. Some, like Jammu and Kashmir or Uttarakhand, saw a negligible rise. Rajasthan, Kerala and Jharkhand saw increases of 55, 76 and 93. Assam and West Bengal saw higher rises of 144 and 295. NCRB farm data now exist for 13 years. In the first seven, 1997-2003, there were 1,13,872 farm suicides, an average of 16,267 a year. In the next six years 1,02,628 farmers took their lives at an average of 17,105 a year. This means, on average, around 47 farmers — or almost one every 30 minutes — killed themselves each day between 2004 and 2009.
Lower their average
Among the major States, only a few including Karnataka, Kerala and West Bengal avoided the sharp rise these six years and lowered their average by over 350 compared to the 1997-2003 period. In the same period, the annual average of farm suicides in the Big 5 States as a whole was more than 1,650 higher than it was in 1997-2003.

Posted in ANDHRAPRADESH, CHHATISGARH, IN NEWS, KARNATAKA, MADHYAPRADESH, MAHARASHTRA | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Farm suicides: a 12-year saga

Posted by ajadhind on January 27, 2010

The loan waiver year of 2008 saw 16,196 farm suicides in the country, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. Compared to 2007, that’s a fall of just 436. As economist Professor K. Nagaraj who has worked in-depth on farm suicide data says, “the numbers leave little room for comfort and none at all for self-congratulation.” There were no major changes in the trend that set in from the late 1990s and worsened after 2002. The dismal truth is that very high numbers of farm suicides still occur within a fast decreasing farm population.

Between just the Census of 1991 and that of 2001, nearly 8 million cultivators quit farming. A year from now, the 2011 Census will tell us how many more quit in this decade. It is not likely to be less. It could even dwarf that 8 million figure as the exodus from farming probably intensified after 2001. The State-wise farm suicide ratios — number of farmers committing suicide per 100,000 farmers — are still pegged on the outdated 2001 figures. So the 2011 Census, with more authentic counts of how many farmers there really are, might provide an unhappy update on what is going on.

Focussing on farm suicides as a share of total suicides in India misleads. That way, it’s “aha! the percentage is coming down.” That’s silly. For one thing, the total number of suicides (all groups, not just farmers) is increasing — in a growing population. Farm suicides are rising within a declining farm population. Two, an all-India picture disguises the intensity. The devastation lies in the Big 5 States (Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh). These account for two-thirds of all farm suicides during 2003-08. Take just the Big 5 — their percentage of all farm suicides has gone up. Worse, even their percentage of total all-India suicides (all categories) has risen. Poor States like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh are doing very badly for some years now.

In the period 1997-2002, farm suicides in the Big 5 States accounted for roughly one out of every 12 of all suicides in the country. In 2003-08, they accounted for nearly one out of every 10.

The NCRB now has farm suicide data for 12 years. Actually, farm data appear in its records from 1995 onwards, but some States failed to report for the first two years. Hence 1997, from when all States are reporting their farm suicide data, is a more reliable base year. The NCRB has also made access much easier by placing all past years of “Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India” reports on its website.

The 12-year period allows us to compare farm suicide numbers for 1997-2002, with how they turned out in the next 6-year period of 2003-2008. All 12 years were pretty bad, but the latter six were decidedly worse.

Reading a ‘trend’ into a single year’s dip or rise is misleading. Better to look at 3-year or 6-year periods within 1997-2008. For instance, Maharashtra saw a decline in farm suicide numbers in 2005, but the very next year proved to be its worst ever. Since 2006, the State has been the focus of many initiatives. Manmohan Singh’s visit to Vidharbha that year brought the “Prime Minister’s Relief Package” of Rs.3,750 crore for six crisis-ridden districts of the region. This came atop Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh’s Rs.1,075 crore “CM’s relief package.” Then followed the nearly Rs.9,000 crore that was Maharashtra’s share of the Rs.70,000-crore Central loan waiver for farmers. To which the State government added Rs.6,200 crore for those farmers not covered by the waiver. The State added Rs.500 crore for a one-time settlement (OTS) for poor farmers who had been excluded from the waiver altogether because they owned over five acres of land.

In all, the amounts committed to fighting the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra exceeded Rs. 20,000 crore across 2006, 2007 and 2008. (And that’s not counting huge handouts to the sugar barons.) Yet, that proved to be the worst three-year period ever for any State at any time since the recording of farm data began. In 2006-08, Maharashtra saw 12, 493 farm suicides. That is nearly 600 more than the previous worst of 2002-2005 and 85 per cent higher than the 6,745 suicides recorded in the three-year period of 1997-1999. The same government was in power, incidentally, in the worst six years. Besides, these higher numbers are emerging within a shrinking farm population. By 2001, 42 per cent of Maharashtra’s population was already urban. Its farmer base has certainly not grown.

So was the loan waiver useless? The idea of a waiver was not a bad thing. And it was right to intervene. More that the specific actions were misguided and bungled. Yet it could also be argued that but for the relief the waiver brought to some farmers at least, the suicide numbers of 2008 could have been a lot worse. The waiver was a welcome step for farmers, but its architecture was flawed. A point strongly made in this journal (Oh! What a lovely waiver, March 10, 2008). It dealt only with bank credit and ignored moneylender debt. So only those farmers with access to institutional credit would benefit. Tenant farmers in Andhra Pradesh and poor farmers in Vidharbha and elsewhere get their loans mainly from moneylenders. So, in fact, farmers in Kerala, where everyone has a bank account, were more likely to gain. (Kerala was also the one State to address the issue of moneylender debt.)

The 2008 waiver also excluded those holding over five acres, making no distinction between irrigated and unirrigated land. This devastated many struggling farmers with eight or 10 acres of poor, dry land. On the other hand, West Bengal’s farmers, giant numbers of small holders below the 5-acre limit, stood to gain far more.

Every suicide has a multiplicity of causes. But when you have nearly 200,000 of them, it makes sense to seek broad common factors within that group. Within those reasons. As Dr. Nagaraj has repeatedly pointed out, the suicides appear concentrated in regions of high commercialisation of agriculture and very high peasant debt. Cash crop farmers seemed far more vulnerable to suicide than those growing food crops. Yet the basic underlying causes of the crisis remained untouched. The predatory commercialisation of the countryside; a massive decline in investment in agriculture; the withdrawal of bank credit at a time of soaring input prices; the crash in farm incomes combined with an explosion of cultivation costs; the shifting of millions from food crop to cash crop cultivation with all its risks; the corporate hijack of every major sector of agriculture including, and especially, seed; growing water stress and moves towards privatisation of that resource. The government was trying to beat the crisis — leaving in place all its causes — with a one-off waiver.

In late 2007, The Hindu carried (Nov. 12-15) the sorry result emerging from Dr. Nagaraj’s study of NCRB data: that nearly 1.5 lakh peasants had ended their lives in despair between 1997 and 2005. Just days later, Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar confirmed those figures in Parliament (Rajya Sabha Starred Question No. 238, Nov. 30, 2007) citing the same NCRB data. It’s tragic that 27 months later, the paper had to run a headline saying that the number had climbed to nearly 2 lakh. The crisis is very much with us. Mocking its victims, heckling its critics. And cosmetic changes won’t make it go away.

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