Farmers’ suicides need to be dealt with ‘overnight’

Farmers’ suicides need to be dealt with ‘overnight’

- in Analysis, Rural Economy, Special Post

The issue of suicides by farmers from across the country needs to be addressed as soon as possible. A large number of farmers commit suicide every year. There are multiple factors, which force farmers to take extreme steps. The most poignant among these is their inability to meet their basic needs with the help of their limited farm income.
It also disallows them to take care of their children’s education. As a result, most of family members of farmers remain dependent on their fixed limited income, while their needs multiply with the passage of time. As a result, they are caught in the vicious circle of debt and most of them rarely get out this morass.

Without wasting anytime, the state and the Central governments must adopt a proactive approach in ameliorating farmers’ woes. It is true that agriculture is a state subject and the state governments take appropriate measures for development of agriculture in the respective state. It is also true that state governments are primarily responsible for the growth and development of agriculture sector in their respective states, but the Centre has to adopt a hawkish
approach so far as agriculture is concerned. The Centre has taken several steps to revitalise agriculture and improve economic condition of farming community on sustainable basis by increasing investment, improving farm practices, creating rural infrastructure and delivery of credit, technology and other inputs such as extension, marketing and so on.

Here raises an important question—Do we know the government’s affirmative measures are leaving positive impact on the country’s farmers. The governments will fail in their duties if they do not audit the impact of these measures not on papers but on the ground. Keeping in mind the dependence of a large section of India’s society on agriculture and also the need for ensuring food and nutrition security, the Centre must not only supplement the efforts of states
through appropriate policy measures and budgetary support, but should also put all pro-farmers measures to effective auditing. The Central government has taken several steps, which include Soil Health Card (SHC) scheme, Neem Coated Urea, Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana (PKVY), Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) and National Agriculture Market scheme (e-NAM).

Similarly, the Central government provides interest subvention of 3 per cent on short-term crop loans up to Rs 3 lakh. Presently, loan is available to farmers at an interest rate of 7 per cent per annum, which gets reduced to 4 per cent on prompt repayment. Further, under the Interest Subvention Scheme 2015-16, in order to provide relief to
the farmers on occurrence of natural calamities, the interest subvention of two per cent shall continue to be available to banks for the first year on the restructured amount and such restructured loans shall attract normal rate of interest from the second year onwards as per the policy laid down by the RBI.

In order to ensure that all eligible farmers are provided with hassle-free and timely credit for their agricultural operations, the Government has introduced the Kisan Credit Card (KCC) Scheme, which enables them to purchase agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. and draw cash to satisfy their consumption needs. The KCC Scheme has since been simplified by providing the farmers with ATM enabled debit card based on one-time
documentation and built-in cost escalation in the limit and so on. Further, under the Interest Subvention Scheme, post-harvest loans against Negotiable Warehouse Receipts (NWRs) provided by banks to small farmers and marginal farmers having Kisan Credit Card (KCC), are also available at the interest rate of 7 per cent per annum for a period of up to six months, in order to discourage distress sale of produce by small and marginal farmers.

Under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), which has been introduced from Kharif 2016, the farmers have to pay only nominal premium of only two per cent for all kharif crops, 1.5 per cent for all Rabi crops and 5 per cent for annual commercial and horticultural crops and the balance is paid by the government under PMFBY. This
scheme provides insurance cover at all stages of the crop cycle including post-harvest risks, in specified instances. The scheme is a protection shield against instances of farmer suicides because of crop failures or damage due to natural calamities.

Notwithstanding all these measures, farmers continue to commit suicides. The Supreme Court on July 6 said the issue of rising farmers’ suicide cannot be dealt with ‘overnight,’ while agreeing with the Central government’s request for a year to show effective results of its pro-farmer schemes like the PMFBY. “We are of the view that the issue of farmers’ suicide cannot be dealt with overnight. It is justified on behalf of the Attorney General to seek time for effective results,” a bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud said. The bench granted time to the Centre and fixed the PIL filed by NGO Citizens Resource and Action Initiative (CRANTI) for hearing after six months.

The message is loud and clear–there is a glaring mismatch between the ground realities and what the governments claim on papers. In order to address this mismatch, the governments must evaluate the impact of all affirmative measures at the ground level. The consistent demand for farm loan waiver not only a manifestation of farmers’ inability to receive remunerative prices but also of the fact that they are not being benefitted by various pro-farmer governmental measures. Though agriculture contributes only 15 per cent to India’s gross domestic product, the majority of country’s population depends on the sector for livelihood, directly or indirectly. Farmers’ problems should not be abused as tools for serving political interests by vested interests at all. Otherwise social division will become much deep and wide and the basic idea of ‘one nation, one ethos’ will be eroded.

Needless to say, broad masses need to be more assertive, inquisitive and bold to fight for their rights and discharge their duties assertively. It is a very difficult proposition indeed, but there is no option if we have to achieve the goal of inclusive growth in real sense of the term. Farmers of the country need to be empowered financially. India must check their exploitation by vested interests. We cannot use them as vote bank for ages to come. They are suffocating
in the vortex of ‘crippling facilities and subsidies.’ They need to be made self-reliant by infusing a real kind of assistance. At present, they have many facilities, but their benefits do not reach them. Funds meant for rural development, the abode of our farmers, are being wasted like anything. By the time an allotted amount reaches a village for some development works, little is left for actual works.

(The writer is Director, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Chandigarh. Views are his personal)

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