P. Sainath in ‘Farmers Suicides and Way Forward’ held by Rytu Swarajya Vedhika and TV9 on 8th January, 2011 at Jubilee Hall, Hyderabad.
I congratulate the center for sustainable agriculture for taking up this initiative and I expect this from an organization like CSA but not from a media house. So , I particularly thank Tv9 for taking up this initiative. This programme will be held in jublee hall for the next 3 hours . But in these 3 hours nearly 6 farmers will commit suicide in India and one among them is from Andhra Pradesh. And also in these 3 hours nearly 60-90 farmers will attempt suicide. 12-15% of them are successful. In these 3 hours nearly 250 farmers quit agriculture forever. And that is our national figure. According to 1991 and 2001 census, every day 2000 farmers are quitting agriculture. ( all these figures are from NCRBA- national crime record bureau – the figures of union home ministry) the agrarian crisis aggravated but still all the state governments are in defensive and denial modethis is the first problem. Nearly 16 state governments had written to union agriculture ministry that there are no farmer suicides in their states. But the paradox is NCRB figures are a result of data collected from their police stations only. The data is collected from the individual police stations and then send to the DCRB(district crimes record bureau) and from there to state government. Andhra Pradesh government had reported 40 -45 farmers suicides during this year .The NCRB data is available only for the past 16years that is from 1995 to 2010 and it tells us that more than 31000 farmers have commited suicides only in the state of Andhra Pradesh. Maharashtra tops the list followed by Karnataka, then Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh. From this data we can see whether the trend in the suicides rates is increaing or decresing . If we look at the first 8 years data the from 1995 to 2002 the number of suicides were 12,716. From 2002 – 2010 the suicides are 18,403. The annual average has gone up by 400-500 deaths. Despite this the state government of A.P claims only 40 suicides in the year. This proves that the government is denying its own data which is also the case with other states. A.P at least claimed about 40 suicides but nearly 16 states reported that there were no farmer suicides at all , so in a way we should appreciate the A.P Government for reporting atleast 40 suicides. The total number of farmer suicides in India from 1995 onwards were more than 2,56,913. This is the data given by Chidambaram’s ministry. This data is not confidential or classified , you can check this data on the NCRB website. We were the ones who pressurised the Govt to publish the data. But this is not the complete data because many of them are not included such as : 1. women are not included as farmers since they don’t have land Patta( registration). ( the death of these women is counted under suicides but not under farmer suicides). This is the reason why women constitute only 10% of the total farmer suicides. You can check out these statistics in the district of Anantapur from A.P . 2. Tenant farmers are also excluded from farmer suicides as they don’t have any land pattas 3 Dalits and adivasis never had any pattas for their land so their deaths are also not counted under farmer suicides. Even after excluding all these people the number of farmer suicides comes down to 30,000 which is of serious concern for Andhra Pradesh. My appeal to all political parties is not to get in to a defensive mode because it is not about a political party but it is the issue of the farmers. But the governments must be held responsible; they must first start telling the truth. Going by their reports, if we calculate, in every 30 minutes a farmer commits suicide. But if you consider any other community like students, engineers and businessmen no other community has such alarming sucide deaths . Highest rate of suicides is in the farmer’s community. This is because farmers have a double burden. The farmer is under double burden because he is affected by price rise, commercialization of education, medical facilities and rising farm costs. Out of these 2,56,000 farmer suicides in the country, nearly 65% of them come from 5 states which are Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The highest number of farmer suicides are from cotton farmers but we boast that we have increased the cotton production by bringing in hybrids like Bt. Cotton. If this is the case, then why are the farmers committing suicides? I would like to discuss about the Vidarbha relief package as I had covered the story and the Prime Minister came only after The Hindu reported extensively on this issue. ‘If you look at the first page of the CAG report, it says that despite the failure of relief packages, the farmer suicides have increased’. To tackle this problem, we have to first recognize the major issues. Firstly, public investment in agriculture has decreased and currently the situation is negative. In the last budget of Shri. Vishwanath Pratap Singh in 1989, 14.5% of GDP was allocated to agriculture. In 2005 it came down to 5.9% (which includes irrigation, fertilizer, subsidies etc.). Our economy is growing at 9 % but the investments in agriculture have come down. I want the policy makers to take a pledge to allocate a minimum amount to agriculture, say around 15 to 20 % of GDP and to ensure that it does not go below that benchmark. Second problem is collapse of credit. If you look at Government data that is National Sample Survey of India, from 1991 to 2001, the indebtedness of farmers have grown by two times. (26% of farm households in 1991 to 48.6% in 2001). In Andhra Pradesh, 82% of farm households are indebted which is highest in the country. I also want to add a point about loan wavier and I congratulate the Government on waiving off 70,000 crores of farm loans given to 40 million farmers. This happened only once in the past 30 years. But if you look at your budget, the revenue forgone by the Government due to corporate subsidies (waive off) is around 88,263 crores. Tax exemptions on custom duty on diamonds and gold are around 49,000 crore per year. Total exemption for corporates is around 5,00,000 crores. For the first time after 30 years, by waiving off 70,000 crores for farmers, the Government is trying to boast that they have given 70,000 crores when every year they are giving away 5,00,000 crores to the rich like Ambanis, Birlas and Tatas. I want to share a incident. One of the poor regions in Maharashtra called Maratwada was in the news. It almost made it into the Guniess World Book of records because on one day 100 business men in one hour bought 150 Mercedes cars. To boast about Aurangabad, they bought 150 Mercedes Cars which were worth 66 crores. Of the 66 crores, 46 crores were sanctioned by SBI Aurangabad at 7%interest p.a. But on the contrary if you look at a farmer buying a tractor, he has to pay a 14% interest on his loan in the same bank. If a poor woman from a SHG takes the same loan, the rate of interest is 30%. The poorer you are, the more interest you pay. This is our logic of inequality and discrimination in our country. Thirdly, market based pricing that was introduced during Chandra Babu Naidu’s time in AP, the standard for the seeds ……………….when I went to Guntur, AP farmers asked me whether I would buy a medicine from a pharmacy which is only 60% reliable. Then I told them that I would not buy it. They told me that this was the case in seeds. Only 80% of the seeds would germinate. This has now dropped to 60% thanks to corporates like Monsanto and Cargil. This means that if you pay for 10,000 packets of seeds, you are getting only 6,000 packets effectively. In 1991, local seeds in Vidarbha costed around 90Rs./ Kg. and hybrid costs around 300Rs./Kg. Bt. Seeds in 2005 costs more than 4,000Rs. The cost of cultivation has grown disastrously. If you look at Vidarbha region(highest suicides amongst cotton farmers), inputs for one acre of unirrigated cotton farm costs around 3,000 to 4,000 Rs in the year 2003-2004 and the cost for an irrigated farmer was 8,000 Rs. Currently, input cost for unirrigated land is around 15,000 to 18,000Rs. and irrigated costs around 40,000Rs. Also their incomes have come down. The fourth factor is by bringing in expensive technologies, the Government is trying to boast that production has increased. But if you look at the official data given by Institute of Cotton Research and other advisory boards, per hectare yield in 2010 is around 483 kg (Bt. Cotton). In 2004, without Bt. Normal hybrid yield was 463 kg. So what is the difference? The input cost has risen by 500% but the production has increased only by 20 kg. The fifth factor is that soil fertility is dying because of extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides. There is a major crisis of decreasing yields in Punjab because of the soil fertility. Public Sector Agricultural Institutes are hijacked. They do not do the work of farmers anymore. But they do the work of the corporate world (eg. Monsanto), extensive research is carried out for seed and fertilizer companies. Look at the syndicate membership in the agricultural universities, there are no farmers and this is the case with all the states. There are many more things to discuss but due to time constraints, I would like to talk about the way forward. I met a couple of marginal farmers just two days back. They asked me a question. ‘Why do you people call us farmers? What is there in my hands that I am called a farmer? The market is not in my hands, the seeds are not in my hands as they are regulated by the corporates, fertilizers are not in my hands (In1991, DAP costed 180Rs, but now it costs more than 1000Rs.). Electricity is being privatized. In Maharashtra, management of dams has also been privatized. In Chattisgarh, 23 kms of a river has been privatized. What is there in our hands that we are called as farmers? Land is the only thing that we have but that is also being grabbed in the name of SEZ and Industrial parks. With what face do you call us farmers?’ They have asked me that question and I am asking you. I have covered this crisis for the last 13 years. I started my work from Anantapur, AP. Two things you should know is that maximum number of suicides are reported from cash crop farmers. Secondly even food crop farmers have started committing suicides and this frightens me. Majority of the cash crop farmers (ground nut, tea, coffee, sugarcane, vanilla, and cashew) but now even food crop farmers have started. I have been begging and would like to beg the leaders of India and AP. First commit yourself to agriculture and conduct a special session of the parliament on agrarian crisis. When parliament can have a full session on the Ambani brother’s dispute over the KG basin (the KG gas does not belong to Anil or Mukesh Ambani but belongs to the state of AP), why can’t we have a special session on agriculture crisis? Also conduct a special state assembly session to discuss this issue. Secondly declare agriculture as a public service like nursing, teaching, the people who produce the nation’s food are doing a public service. Minimum percentage of budget must be allocated for agriculture. Debt relief tribunal should be created. When the loans for farmers were waived off, two very wrong elements came up. Sharad Pawar said that to waive off the loan, the farmer must have less than 5 acres of land. But there was no distinction between unirrigated and irrigated farmer. Unirrigated farmer or rain fed farmer’s land holdings will be more because his productivity will be less. In the case of Vidarbha, the average land holding is 7 acres which means that 80% of the farmers were excluded from the loan waiver. But in his district, the average holding is less than 5acres. So 53% of the loan waiver benefitted 6 districts out of the 35 districts in Maharashtra. Only Kerala considered all factors including private money lending and a debt relief tribunal was created. National Farmers Commission report was tabled in the parliament in 2007 but even till today not even a single discussion was held on it. The report is untouched by the Union Agriculture Minister. It is a government report headed by an eminent scientist MS. Swaminathan. National Farmers Policy was also tabled in the parliament but no discussion was conducted till date. There should be a national debate on the present model of agriculture. In the present model, extensive use of fertilizers and pesticides has made our food poisonous. If we consider these 6-7 factors, a national debate on agrarian crisis can be initiated which will show us a direction for a better future. This is not a political crisis but a national crisis. It is a crisis of a class and a crisis of our conscience.