Dasari Ramulu, 45, and Polaboyina Pochaiah, 35, are two of the 348 Telangana farmers, who committed suicide since June 2 when Telangana became a state. The reasons behind their decision are not unique – crop failures due to poor rains and a nonexistent irrigation system and debt burdens. The debt-to-death arithmetic is simple: Each attempt to get water through bore wells costs Rs. 1 lakh and cotton seeds are Rs. 2,400 a kg, while labour charges are shooting up.
Farmers also take loans for meeting medical, education and marriage expenses at high interest rates from private lenders, hoping that one bumper crop will solve all his woes. But monsoon failures and the absence of any crop insurance scheme make suicide the only escape route.
Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhara Rao has his defence ready, “We are aware of the suicides. But what could we do when Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh CM) has vowed to destroy farming in Telangana and show me as a failure?” He accused Naidu of stopping the supply of power that should come to Telangana from power plants in Andhra.
HT scouted the two most affected districts of Telangana – Warangal and Nalgonda – and found the number of suicides to be alarmingly high this kharif season.
For instance, the death of Ramulu in Pallepahad of Turkapally mandal in Nalgonda two and a half months back was the first suicide in the village. But this time, every farmer in Ramulu’s village is in a debt as almost every crop dried up.
Although such deaths are being reported from all the nine rural Telangana districts – with Warangal topping the list – they are not being recorded as farmer suicides.
While police records show marginal farmer Ramulu as saddled with a loan of Rs. 5 lakh, a local revenue official at Turkapally said the death resulted from a quarrel with his wife. “Every farmer suicide cannot be classified as a farm suicide,” he declared airily.
Why? In 2004, then CM Rajasekhara Reddy announced that every victim family would receive up to Rs. 1.5 lakh within two months of the suicide after an official probe. But there was no such visit by government officials in any of the cases that HT probed in Nalgonda and Warangal.
As the government is pegging the total number of suicides at 79 against the unofficial figure of 348, M Kodanda Reddy, chairman of Telangana Kisan Congress, says, “It is a bogus list. District officials expressed their inability to recognise these farm suicides as the government is unwilling to face uncomfortable questions.”
Another aspect to the deaths is tenant farming, which is widespread in Telangana. Farmers typically own one or two acres of land, but take more land on rent from landlords.
Pochaiah was one such marginal farmer in Tarigoppula village in Warangal. In addition to his family’s two acres, he took 10.5 acres at Rs. 3,000 an acre and sowed maize. He couldn’t bear the losses for the second year in a row and committed suicide.
Now, the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party blame Rao for not extending the loan waiver and for failing to ensure power for the farm sector. The opposition is gearing up to corner the government in the budget session beginning on Wednesday.