The Human Rights Forum (HRF) calls upon the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana governments to bring about a comprehensive ‘Drought Relief Code’. This Code should encompass measures that must be implemented towards effective drought relief and mitigation. The duties of the State to the people affected by drought and the rights and entitlements of those who suffer from drought must be codified in this law. Such a code is imperative at the earliest because governments continue to exhibit adhocism and tokenism in the matter of addressing agrarian crisis and even providing relief to the drought-hit.
Over the past several weeks, HRF fact-finding teams have visited 104 families in 79 villages of Medak, Warangal, Karimnagar, Nalgonda, Mahbubnagar, Adilabad and Nizamabad districts in Telangana and East Godavari and Anantapur districts of AP where farmers have committed suicide. While exact figures are difficult to obtain, it is our estimate that not less than 910 farmers have ended their lives in AP and Telangana so far this year. Over 90 per cent of them are from the rain-fed districts of Telangana and Rayalaseema. Most are small, marginal farmers and tenant farmers. Cotton farmers in Telangana and groundnut farmers in Rayalseema account for the maximum farm suicides.
Farmers are taking their own lives principally because of the appalling state of institutional credit leading to excessive reliance on private moneylenders resulting in high indebtedness. The drying up of public credit because of the ‘banking reforms’ is the single most important contributing cause of farmers’ suicides. Farmers also lack access to reliable and reasonably priced inputs and a remunerative price for their output. It is clear that successive governments have failed in their obligations on all these fronts thereby rendering farmers helpless when rains fail or are delayed. Both governments knew of the impending crisis given subsequent crop failures, but did virtually nothing to avert it. Except blaming each other, both governments’ are doing precious little for farmers in terms of concrete relief.
Even implementation of G.O 421, which provides for an economic and rehabilitation package to family members of farmers who have ended their lives, is pathetic. The RDO-headed 3-member divisional verification and certification committee is barely visiting the villages where suicides have taken place and going about its job. For instance, in the six families we visited in Anantapur district this Sunday (November 30), the divisional committee has visited only one family, that of K Sudhakar of YT Cheruvu in Guntakal mandal. The visit was only a few days ago, a full five months after a debt-ridden Sudhakar had taken his own life on 30-6-2014. This delay defeats the very purpose of GO 421. We have no hesitation in stating that all of these families are eligible for the financial assistance package evolved as support under G.O 421. In all these cases it can clearly be established that there was correlation between farm-related operations, economic distress and social humiliation eventually leading to suicide. It must be remembered that for every farmer who has committed suicide, there are many others facing extreme despair.
The present onslaught on the lives of the peasantry has come about because those in power have jettisoned their responsibility to the farmers. Both the AP and Telangana governments must at least now stop underplaying the extent of the agrarian crisis and initiate concrete steps to alleviate the situation. All cultivators, including tenant farmers, must be brought into the ambit of institutional credit. As a first step it must be ensured that all cases of reported farmers’ suicides are enquired into by the three-member divisional verification committee at the earliest and justice done to the families. The assistance per family must also be increased from the present Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 5 lakh.
If these and other such concrete pro-small farmer measures are not forthcoming, we fear there might be a suicide epidemic in the coming months.
VS Krishna A Chandrasekhar
(HRF general secretary) (HRF vice-president)