As Few As 39 Marked As Deaths Due To Debt; Activists Sceptical
In Sangli district, 1,988 farmers committed suicide between January 2011 and October 2015 and only 39 cases were attributed to debt burden, says information accessed through the Right to Information Act. Of the 39, only 18 families — less than 1% of all affected families — have received compensation from the state.The figures hold up a huge gap between the deaths in a largely agricultural district and the state’s attempt to provide relief, hinting at possible underreporting of farm distress or poor probe into the suicides, say activists, adding that the situation must be manifold worse in the drought-hit areas. In western Maharashtra’s Sangli, in which 70% land is under agriculture involving over 74% of the population, many of the 10 talukas are drought-prone.

The records obtained by RTI activist Jitendra Ghadge show many reasons like “mental disorders”, “family problems” or “alcoholism” attributed for the deaths in the police records, which are key in government decisions to grant compensation for suicides. But the noting against hundreds of cases was “unknown reason”, raising doubts about the authenticity of the probe, and the sincerity of the police and the revenue administration in mitigating the distress of farmers.

“If this is the situation in a district like Sangli, one can imagine the plight of farmers and their families in drought-hit Marathwada, Vidarbha and Khandesh,“ said Ghadge, demanding a statewide scrutiny of farmer suicides so that any truly distressed family is not overlooked by the state.

“The system of ascertai ning suicides and compensation is too technical and bureaucratic which has led to rampant ignorance of genuine cases. We need to fix the accountability of officers in handling the cases,” said Kishor Tiwari, chairman of the state-level task force to save distressed farmers.

The government should ask the bureaucracy down the line to revisit and review all the suicides to do away with under-reporting and decide on aid on humanitarian grounds, he added.

“Just compensating death is not the task, but gauging the vulnerability of dependents and ensuring food security, health and education to them should be taken care of. We need to bring the farmers and their families above a certain economic level.” Ghadge pointed out more than 200 suicides had been attributed to alcoholism, but no attempt to analyse why people were taking to the addiction despite the establishment of de-addic tion machinery with the help of NGOs again showed lapses on the part of the administration.

Talking about under-reporting of farm distress suicides, social activist Medha Patkar said the administration needs to get to the root of the problem.

“There is a need to scientifically analyse suicides so as to take sustainable measures to stop them in the longer term instead of taking just a few pragmatic steps here and there. I think there is a huge gap between agriculture and other sectors which should be bridged to avoid the risky market-based economy of farmers. More and more subsidies and compensations are actually making farmers a debtridden entity. We need to take peasants away from this vicious circle and instill a sense of confidence by bringing all related sectors such as power, water, fertilizers, researchers, suppliers and other infrastructure closer to them,” she said.