Srimanta Sarkar

Balurghat, Dec. 20: A Balurghat farmer allegedly hanged himself from a tree outside his home yesterday after having failed to exchange the demonetised notes he got from selling paddy.

The death of Srimanta Sarkar, a resident of Lohaganj village, could be the first instance of a farmer suicide linked to demonetisation in Bengal, police sources said. His family said he had been visiting the bank for the past three weeks but had failed to exchange the Rs 5,000 he had in the scrapped notes because of long queues.

Villagers said Sarkar had accepted the demonetised notes from the traders who bought his paddy fearing the produce might remain unsold in the absence of buyers with new currency. He had planned to buy paddy seeds with the Rs 5,000 for the rabi season, which goes on till March.

A police officer said: “The farmer was forced to accept the scrapped notes from the paddy buyers, else his produce would have remained unsold. But for the past few weeks, long queues in the bank had prevented him from exchanging the notes.”

Sarkar had an account with the United Bank of India’s Lohaganj branch, the only nationalised bank in the village. The bank does not have an ATM. The nearest such kiosk is located 20km from the village.

His wife Renuka said: “My husband was depressed for the past three weeks because he was not being able to get the old notes exchanged. He had gone to the bank but there were long queues.”

Sources said Sarkar had sold about five quintals of paddy and was paid Rs 5,000 in the scrapped Rs 500 notes. The amount is much lower than what he would have got had he sold the produce to the government, which has fixed the minimum selling price at Rs 1,470 a quintal.

Restrictions on withdrawals from banks and long queues have prompted many farmers across districts to sell their paddy at lower rates to local aggregators. The government transfers the money to the accounts of farmers, who prefer cash payments.

According to Renuka, Sarkar was getting all the more restless because he needed new currency notes to buy paddy seeds and fertilisers for the next season.

The couple had three children. “It will be difficult to run the family without him,” Renuka said.

Villagers said the Lohaganj branch of the UBI had been allowing a maximum withdrawal of Rs 2,000 per person per week.

UBI branch manager Uday Kumar Sharma said: “I don’t know why the person committed suicide. His problem could have been solved had he contacted me.”

Sharma, however, added that there was no cash crisis at the branch.

Mithu Joardar, the sabhapati of the Trinamul-run Kushmandi panchayat, said: “The farmer was forced to commit suicide because of demonetisation. We will pay compensation to his family.”

Gaurab Hansda, the investigating officer from Kushmandi police station who visited Sarkar’s family, said: “The police have sent the body to Balurghat district hospital for a post-mortem and started a case of unnatural death.”