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Once considered national pride, farmers of the country find themselves in deep crisis today. And it is high time to recognise it as a national crisis, no matter how glossy a picture is painted by the mainstream media and the various governments.

Farmer’s deaths (better termed as ‘suicide due to shock’) has only seen an upward slope with each passing year.

Before you forget the improvised techniques of protest by Tamil Nadu farmers who camped at Jantar-Mantar in Delhi, the following account of agrarian distress assesses seriousness of the issues in the state.

As far as agrarian crisis is concerned in the state, the judiciary stepped in and directed Tamil Nadu government to file an affidavit regarding the steps taken by it to prevent suicides of farmers in the state. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) too swung into action; it has sent a notice to the Tamil Nadu government regarding continuing farmer death in the state. It has rightly pointed out in its notice to the Chief Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu on 5thJanuary, 2017, that the entire family collapses when a farmer dies or commits suicide.

Various political parties have put forth their demands to the ruling government in order to palliate the agrarian distress in this state. Some of the demands that have been put forth by all concerned alike are; 1) Provide necessary water to save the standing crop, 2) Crop loans should be waived, 3) The central Government should declare Tamil Nadu as a ‘drought hit’ state and provide relief, 4) Compensation should be provided to the farmers etc. Recognizing the popular demands, the Tamil Nadu government has set up a high-level panel to assess the farmer distress and has said that the financial aid would be provided based on the reports from the panel. This is a welcome step, but is this step adequate as far as the timings is concerned?

One disturbing fact based on the NCRB report is that “bankruptcy and indebtedness” witnesses the sharpest spike in 2015[ii], registering an almost three fold increase as compared to 2014. It is disheartening to see that among those who committed suicide due to bankruptcy, only 9.8% of those took loans from money lenders. It is further dispiriting that the organised sector such as banks and micro-finance institutions, which ought to be the life saviors, have become the life takers. The nature too seems to have let off the state with only 163.8 mm of recorded rain as compared to the usual 440 mm.

Equitable Stratification of Farmers

Not all farmers belong to the same social strata. Not all farmers can withstand the pressure that they face in the current scenario. Thus, an equitable justice is what the farmers need. ‘Farmers’ can be considered an ‘all-encompassing’ term that incorporates all the individuals resorted to farming belonging to various strata of the society under its ambit.

Based on the class structure in the society, farmers can be divided into three broad classifications-

  • The land owners with means of production.
  • Those who undertake land from the landowners for rent but may/ may not own all other means of production.
  • Daily wage workers in the farms whose only asset is labour.

Along with the above three sections of farmers, other sections of the society who belong to the allied areas such as the owners of the means of production e.g.. shopkeepers who sell fertilizers, tractors, seeds etc. are included as farmers for they are also affected by the agrarian distress.

Photo: PTI

Distress and Death

According to the NCRB data on farm suicides released in 2015, agrarian labourers and farmers working on contract/ leased land together constitute the largest percentage of those who have committed suicide, i.e. nearly 60%. The rest is constituted by those who own land. However, out of those whom we had met, majority of them were constituted by those belonging to the daily wage workers category.

The family members of the deceased who were interviewed assert that crop failure and bankruptcy are the main causes of suicides of their bread earners while the NCRB report registered family problem and bankruptcy as major reasons behind farmers’ suicide.

With the recent issues such as Cauvery Water crisis and lack of rainfall, the number of deaths has increased to an unprecedented level. The NHRC has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports regarding the deaths of 106 farmers during a period of one month in Tamil Nadu which it considers as a matter of concern.

Charter of Demands

The farmers, in order to put forth their demands, resort to protests and when their demands, which are just and only for their subsistence, are not met, they resort to suicide in order to draw attention or they die due to shock. In order to reduce the suicides and death due to shock, it is pertinent that their demands are met.

Based on an independent research in the state during 2017 and meeting with the family members of farmers who committed suicide, this author along with fellow researchers drafted a different set of demands which are crucial to mitigate agrarian distress.

For the landowners who own the means of production:

  • Government should ensure that the farmers are paid, for the next five years, every expense pertaining to the cultivation of crops through nationalized banks. A committee has to be set up and the said committee will have to submit a report detailing the expenses that have to be paid to each farmer based on the crop within 3 months.
  • For those landowners who had farmed on their own i.e. without providing the land for rent, a compensation of a minimum of Rs. 30,000 per acre should be provided along with immediate crop insurance scheme.
  • The requisite amount from the eligible crop insurance scheme should be provided with immediate effect.
  • In addition to MGNREGA, round the year employment should be provided to all those interested to work, in addition specifically to the daily agricultural labourers.
  • Such employment shall, without any gender bias, provide for a minimum of Rs.400/- per day as wages shall be payable by the government through a proposed Agricultural Labourers Welfare Board.
  • Rs. 25,000/- should be provided to them as compensation for the agrarian distress.
  • Adequate compensation should be provided to those whose sales/services were affected due to the agrarian distress who belong to the allied areas.

Photo: PTI

Remunerative and right based demands

The researchers also clubbed the common demands of all sections of the farmers ranging from remunerative compensation to right based reparation. The report suggests that

  • The family of the deceased farmers, irrespective of the strata of the society they belong to, should be given Rs.10,00,000/- as compensation.
  • Complete loan waiver for all farmers.
  • Pension scheme be introduced for the kin of the deceased farmers, the amount for which shall be no less than Rs 5000, subject to revision every year.
  • A separate Act dedicated to farmers should come into effect which shall deal with issues related to farming, death due to distress and matters connected therewith and incidental thereto.
  • Free education for the children of the deceased farmers up to Class XII and special reservation them in order to pursue higher education in all types of courses.
  • Adequate awareness must be brought among the farmers on the crop suitable to be grown in each area along with tips on the necessary inputs needed which shall be recommended by an expert committee constituted by the government.
  • Ban on sand mining in the Cauvery Delta regions to prevent any further degradation to the already degraded river ecosystem.
  • Water for irrigation purposes should be given by the government through any means as is necessary through the Cauvery delta because bore wells irrigation pumps exhaust ground water in irreplaceable manner.
  • Prawn cultivation should be completely banned in and around the Cauvery Delta areas, as it damages the environment as well as the ecology.
  • All ponds should be dredged and deweeded properly and all encroachments should be removed with immediate effect as they are an important cause for the non- availability of water for cultivation.
  • The government should set up a five member committee in every area for monitoring the said demands being enforced. The committee must comprise of:
    – A government Agricultural Officer.
    – A professor from Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.
    -Three local farmers. (Elected among those possessing Kisan ID)

Long Term Demands:

The state government must lease all the agricultural land in Tamil Nadu, particularly in the Cauvery Delta region, from the landlords. Further, the government must employ the landlord and other leasees and agricultural workers in those farms and pay them fitting salary.

All the water bodies must be nationalised and must come under the control of the state government. The licence of all the mineral water companies and beverage companies along with the permission issued to draw water from those water bodies are to be withdrawn with immediate effects.

References:

[i] http://nhrc.nic.in/disparchive.asp?fno=34163

[ii] http://nhrc.nic.in/disparchive.asp?fno=34163
* P.S. Michael v. The District Collector, Alappuzha, W.P. (C). No. 12929/2010-M

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