FARMER’S SUICIDE IN INDIA : CHALLENGES & VIABLE POLICY OPTIONS
Author: Sanjoli Verma, V year of B.A.,LL.B. from Hidayatullah National Law University
This project focuses mainly on the effects of growing suicides of farmers in India. Because of inflation, liberalisation and privatisation in India, the living standards of farmers in India are threatened. The effects of the open market and subsequent competitiveness and pressure have led farmers to severe debt which leads to suicides. According to reports by the National Crime Records Office, the suicide rate of farmers in India has not improved considerably.The purpose of this study is to explore & investigate the challenges and solutions to reduce farm suicides in India.
The study recognises that while many factors play a role in raising the suicide of farmers in India, it is only possible that many variables are needed. This suggests that the increase in farmers' suicide has many causes that could lead to this problem in the country and that this research does not have to carry out a further qualitative study in depth. Hence all of the factors may not be directly involved in any one particular area as different regions possess different issues which lead to such drastic steps by farmers. Still it is difficult to formulate a policy which can be applicable and compatible for framers for allover India. Moreover economic & social betterment is something which is difficult to reach for each and every farmer. Their exploitation should be averted as large as possible.
India is an agricultural country that relies directly or indirectly on agriculture, for about 70 percent of its population. But the suicides of farmers in India are worrisome. According to the Central Government, over 12000 suicides have been registered each year since 2013, despite a multi-pronged approach to improving farmers' income and social security. Around 10 percent of all suicides occur in India in farmers' suicides.
The threat of farmers' suicides cannot be denied and goes against the ambitions of the demographic dividend to reap benefits. The aim and the way forward is to discuss the suicides of farmers in India in this article.The word 'suicide' suggests voluntary killing yourself. In a study by Patel et al., suicide in India has been shown to be a completely different epidemic from the high income countries (HICs). There are a number of suicides in India each year. The number of suicides is nearly double in rural areas, although there is no variation in HICs.
The statistics in India reveal a steady rise in suicide levels, with Maharashtra, MP, Telangana, Andhra Paresh, Tamil Nadu,Chhattisgarh and Karnataka being the countries with the highest number of suicides. These states together accounted for approximately 90% of the overall suicides of farmers in India.
The list consists of farmers-growers and farmers. Self-harming was committed both by marginal farmers and small farmers. The worst affected state is Maharashtra. Ironically, the most beneficial part of Punjab from the Green Revolution also has a depressing image of Indian farmers' suicides. Between 1995 and 2015 there were 4,687 farmers suicides, of which 1334 from one Mansa district alone, in the state of Punjab.
Causes and Reasons for these Suicides
The problem of farmer suicides has assumed a serious proportion. According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), 10%of the total suicide rates in India are suicides by farmers.Among the causes of farmers' suicides in India, scholars have provided different explanations, such as mozon failure, climate change, high debt burdens, public policies, mental health, personal problems and family issues.
The surge in the cost of input: The growing pressure on farmers due to the high price of agricultural inputs was one of the major causes of farmers' suicides in India. These factors culminate in the overall cost rise for wheat, which currently is three times the price in 2005.
Cost of chemicals and seeds: whether fertilisers, crop protection chemicals or seeds for planting, for already indebted farmers, agriculture has become costly.
Costs of farming equipment: However, production costs are not limited to the fundamental raw materials. The already high costs are added by the use of farm equipment and machines, such as tractors, submersible pumps etc. Furthermore, for the small and marginal farmers these secondary inputs have become less accessible.
Costs of labour: In the same way, it becomes more expensive to employ staff and livestock. Although it may represent an improvement in workers' socio-economic status, which is primarily driven by MGNERGA and a rise in basic minimum revenues, the boost in the agriculture industry has not been too successful.
Distressed due to loans
NCRB data indicates the victims had unpaid loans from local banks in 2474 of the 3,000 farmer suicides studied in 2015. An indication of the links between the two is plain enough. However, it is a lengthy debate that includes more clear empirical proof whether or not the banks were bullying them.
In addition, it was evident from the normal trend that only 9,8 percent of the loans borrowed by these farmers were borrowed from the money lenders. Those who give money will not be able, as otherwise considered, to exert leverage or muscle power as a driving force.
The proliferation of both reflects another clear connection between suicides and debt by farmers. Though 1293 indebtedness suicides were committed by Maharashtra, Karnataka did have 946. Notice that both countries have seen one of the highest suicide and debt incidences in farmers.
Lack of Direct Market Integration: While initiatives like the Contract Farming help to integrate the producers directly into the market, there is a reduction in the position of the intermediaries.
Lack of Knowledge: the digital dividity and the literature gap have put small and marginal farmers, because they have been unable to use the positive aspects of government policies, particularly vulnerable. This is expressed in ongoing unsustainable crops – such as growing sugar cane in regions with water deficits.
Water crisis: The concentration of these suicides in regions with water deficits like Karnataka and Maharashtra is an indication that the water crisis and thus inability to meet the demand for output have exacerbated the danger. This is particularly true in the context of continuing failed monsoons.
Inter-state water conflicts & disputes : the fact that each other's water needs among the states were not met adds to the already prevailing crisis. A recent Kaveri controversy, in which Karnataka and Tamil Nadu fought both in and outside the tribunal to overcome water shortage even in so far as the court award is not complied with, is at issue.
Climatic Change: As the last nail in the coffin, climate change has led to more uncertainties associated with the already unpredictable monsoon mechanism and thus agricultural activity. Delayed monsoons experienced shortfall in production year after year, while incidents such as flash flutter resulted in crop losses.
New Economic policies led by urban consumption in India: India's political economy is more powered than rural producers by urban consumers.This is expressed in the importance of price checks when prices escalate and a failed withdrawal once the price is regulated (imposed minimum export prices, the entry of goods under the Critical Commodities etc.). In contrast, we imposed a minimum import price to ensure our steel industry. This unequal treatment of the primary sector often reduces the profit margin and thus prevents farmers from breaking off the debt cycle.The root cause of farmers' suicides is structural shifts in Indian government macro-economic policy which favour privatisation, liberalisation, and globalisation.
Loan waivers rather restructing & re-investing measures: We have adopted a policy of appeasement as the latest decision by the UP government to withdraw Rs 36,000 pounds of loans. The government has taken a policy of managing agricultural indebtedness. Surprisingly, at a time when farm yields in the aftermath of an excellent monsoon are predicted to be higher.
Essentially, the reasons are crop failure, non-sustainable production and subsequent agricultural debt, which contributes to the failure to reinforce the farmers' economic status as driving forces behind the suicides.
Challenges - Issues with current policy
In 1991, the Indian economy's liberalising policies led to a "agrarian crisis" and increased suicides of farmers. The government's policy led to market opening was the principal cause of 'agrarian crises.' The number of policies that the government has implemented are thought to be beneficial to agriculture, and it certainly has changed the face of Indian farming, but this has led to a growing death rate amongst farmers. The 1991 strategy led to improvements in aggregate and public investment institutions.
The changes brought on by Government policy of 1991 raised input costs while output rates have declined or become even more volatile. The price of inputs has increased. These changes have especially badly hit producers of small and marginal landowners who grow cash crops, such as coffee and cotton. All India's Vijoo Krishnan Kisan Sabha blames high input and decreased output costs of cultivation. Many farmers produce each year at a loss. The bad irrigation facilities and reduced subsidies cause farming to be risky every day are the main reasons for the rising number of suicides.
Different Responses & Policies to Suicides of the Farmers
Here are some of the key aid packages and the government's debt waiver schemes:
2006 relief package — targeted mainly at 31 districts with high relative incidences of farmers' suicides in four countries of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and the Kerala. In order to alleviate these farmers' suffering, a special rehabilitation programme was initiated. The package provided farmers with debt relief, a strengthened institutional credit supply, enhanced irrigation services, experts and social workers for agricultural support and implemented subsidiary income opportunities through horticulture, livestock, dairy and fishing. The Government of India has also revealed the Prime Minister's National Relief Fund to farmers for its ex-gratia cash assistance.
Agricultural debt waiver and debt relief scheme, 2008 – over 36 million farmers were benefiting from the Agricultural Debt Waiver and Debt Relief Scheme, which cost 65,000 rupees (USD 10 billion). This expenditure was intended to write down both the interest due by the farmers and the portion of the loan principal.
2013 Income diversification programme – the Indian Government has initiated a Special Livestock and Fishery Package for the Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala suicide-prone farming regions in 2013. The goal of the package was to diversify farmers' income streams.
In addition to these Central Government initiatives the state governments such as Maharashtra Bill, in 2008, and the Kerala Farmers' Debt Relief Commission (amendment) Bill, 2012 are making great effort to control the conditions for farming loans.
The government even tries to conduct of national and state-wise farmers' suicides (Statistics) and surveys.
Regional surveys : Several Indian government agencies have conducted their own attempts to discourage suicides of farmers. The Maharashtra Government formed a special group in 2006, known as the Amravati-based Vasantrao Naik ShetiSwavlamban Mission, to address agricultural distress. Also, under the Chairmanship of Dr. Veeresh, former Vice Chancellor of the Agricultural University and Professor Deshpande, the Government of Karnataka was formed as a group to research farmer suicides.
2010 Maharashtra Relief Package : The Maharashtra State Government made it illegal to pursue repayment of loans for non-licensed creditors in 2010. The state government also announced that it would provide government loans, the low-rate crop insurance programme whose premium will be charged 50% by farmers and 50% by government, the launching of alternative income opportunities for farmers in high suicide prone regions, including poultry, milk products and sericulture.
New policies formulated regarding this issue
In 2004, under the leadership of Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the government created the National Farmers Commission. The Commission's main objective was to develop methods for increasing the profitability, efficiency and sustainability of the major agricultural sector. The "National Farmers Policy 2007" has been formulated and accepted by the Government of India, following the recommendations made by the Commission.
The aims of that policy are, among other things, to improve the economical viability of farms and to provide adequate price policy, risk management measures and significantly improve farmers' net income in addition to improvements in production, profitability, property, water and support.
On international standards UNCSD is urging the international farmers community to consider and deal with the rising issue of suicide.
Effectiveness of such Government Responses
Even though many measures were taken by the government but many policies responses and reliefs packages of the government were largely unsuccessful, misdirected, inefficient and deficient states. In addition to jobs, productive activities and agricultural prosperity, it focuses on credit and loan. Assistance in paying unpaid assets and benefits helps the lenders, but it has not succeeded in creating stable and good income sources for the farmers. The usurious money lenders keep borrowing at the rate between 24 and 50%, while the land the farmer is working on remains poor in income generating capacity, subject to conditions of the weather.
The government has been unable to understand that debt relief only deferred the problem and that only stable sources of revenue, increased crop yields per hectare, irrigation and other infrastructure safety can provide a longer-term solution to the distress of farms. Golait recognised the positive position of the Crop diversification initiative in government response to farmers' suicide reports in a Reserve Bank of India paper.
Indian agriculture is still suffering: (i) low productivity; (ii) falling water levels; (iii) high loans; (iv) a distorted market; (iii) many middlemen and intermediaries who raise costs but not add a high value to them; (ii) legislation stifling private investment; (iii) controlled prices; (iii). The method therefore does not benefit agriculture with the mere focus on credit isolated from the above factors. In addition, a more pro-active position in developing and sustaining reliable irrigation and other agricultural infrastructure is required to resolve the distress of farmers in India.
Recommendation, Measures and Suggestions
1. The growing concern about suicide farmers has forced Mr Dvendra Fadnavis to launch an integrated scheme to guarantee small and marginal farmers economic sustainability. "There have been 25 lakh farmers in the value chain of all the main crops agreed by the State." Mr Fadnavis will work along with 40 companies that have ensured investment in the Maharashtra agriculture sectors.
2. At the same time, a new holistic strategy focusing on government-private-sector investor partnerships and improved irrigation potentials is also being implemented to improve the livelihoods of farmers.
3. In order to minimise agriculture's reliance on money lenders, the farmers' daily income must be taken into account.
4. There was a need to implement alternative livelihoods such as journals etc., and the government started to work on these schemes to ensure farmers' survival even in the event of agricultural failures.
5. Integrated prevention of harmful pest control policies – To avoid crop damage, an all-inclusive approach should be applied that incorporates ecological, chemical, mechanical and physical methodology. In that case it might be a good way to get motivated by the early Vietnamese rule of no-spray (predatory beets for biological pest control are preserved, the criterion of cutting pesticide by 50 percent).
6. Reducing fertiliser costs – The input costs can be reduced by helping fertiliser industries reduce costs through internal funding rather than external borrowing.
7. Leverage scientific and technological developments by making sure the state-owned seed policy focuses on new genotypes, contract farming and weather sensitization.
8. Precision farming techniques such as SRI must be promoted (Systematic Rice Intensification).
9. In order to ensure cheaper local production, the policy and subsidies on farm equipment should concentrate on the imported equipment and try out some motivation such as duty credit scripts. Subsidies have to be redistributed to capital generation and business custom hire centres (CHCs) and implemented promptly.
10. Corporate social responsibility (CSR), particularly in the area of capacity-building, skill development and the development of CHCs, must be encouraged in the agricultural sector.
11. Institutional funding should also be assured that the elite within the agricultural community are sufficient and inclusive rather than catering for.
12. Cooperative farming between small and marginalised farmers must be encouraged to ensure that they are not laid waste while the big farmers profit at their expense.
13. It is a healthy goal to double farmers' income by 2022, but credit waivers cannot be a response. Sustainable, reinvestment- and restructuring-providing agriculture instead is the way ahead. The position of the State is one of liberation, but empowerment is what the primary sector and the farmer requires.
14. Directive interventions:
• early warning signals for unsustainable lending, which would enable both the burdened farmers and stressed banks to take a two-pronged approach.
• Wherever practicable, options for restructuring credits must be included.
• Claims for insurance must be settled promptly and fairly.
• A District wise list of indebted farmers should be considered as well as efforts to de-stress them by means of advices and alternatives. The situation must be monitored and increased by NABARD and local administrations to reduce farmers' suicide.
15. The engagement of civil society organisations will employ creative efforts such as crowd-funding (CSOs). Efforts such as zoning for agro-climatic goods, DD Kisan education, Soil Health Card scheme for agriculture, various insurance policies for crops, etc.
16. Community consciousness needs to be developed through the use of a role model approach which highlights progress made by farmers benefitting from sustainable and climate-friendly farming practises.
17. Use of technology: new technologies are required to increase production per unit of soil and water.
18. National Agricultural Biosafety System: the biosafety system to be developed to coordinate the agricultural bioprogramme.
19. Credit & Insurance: Development of credit counselling centres to support seriously debt-rescuing farmers to get away from the debt trap. Gyan Chaupals needs to assist in the challenge for both credit and insurance literacy in villages.
20. Minimum Price of support (MSP) mechanisms to be efficiently enforced in the country in order to guarantee remuneration rates for farm products.
Covid -19 and Suicide of Farmers
Concerning COVID 19, individuals and communities face psychosocial problems that can be special and severe in marginalised populations, such as Indian farmers who already have an ongoing psychosocial burden of suicidal behaviour. Apart from normal mental health operations, the social determinants of suicide behaviour, including social and economic support, should be assessed in this population and multi-pronounced, multi-level approaches should be taken. In addition, it is crucial to acknowledge and resolve suicide among vulnerable farmers in India through well-considered policy work between mental health practitioners, academics, health policymakers and stakeholders from social welfare authorities.
We must be very careful & keep a close watch and try to curb root causes which leads farmers' to such extents. Since farmers' suicides are a matter of serious concern for a rapidly developed country and a problem for well-planned financial infrastructure, village officials such as local Revenue owe their responsibility for this action. The duty of investigating the financial wellbeing of all farmers should be delegated to them. They are not only responsible for inquiries; they are also responsible for advising distressed farmers and helping them through bank litigation in the case that they are trapped in any debt.
Changes in market reforms are also needed to ensure that agreements between farmers and buyers are equitable. Certain adjustments must be made in the strategies and policies of the government. It is best to take proactive steps to contain this situation, instead of spending later on the relief package to deal with the suicides of farmers. On both social and economic fronts preventive steps should be tackled. In this regard there should be no over-emphasising the importance of financial literacy, education, advice and medical services for social purposes.
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