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Farmer suicides a stain on 'agricultural success'

Indian state accused of putting growth above lives

Farmer suicides a stain on 'agricultural success'
Farmers pick cotton in Madhya Pradesh reporter, Bhopal

January 15, 2013

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Despite phenomenal growth in the agriculture sector, six farmers or farm laborers commit suicide every day in Madhya Pradesh, state opposition parties say.   

According to official statistics, the agriculture sector in the central Indian state has recorded impressive growth of 18 percent so far in the current fiscal year, about 15 percent above the national average.

However, small farmers are still struggling to make ends meet and falling victim to forced land acquisitions, driving many to suicide.

The government admits there is a problem, with official figures stating that 1,541 farmers and farm laborers committed suicide in March-October last year.

This has led the opposition to accuse the government of placing big business before the interests of poor farmers, paying more attention to growth figures and not taking heed of the suicide rate.  

They even question whether the growth figures are actually true.

“Agriculture growth paints a rosy picture but differs greatly from reality,” says Govind Yadav, state president of Janata Dal United (United People’s Party).

Badal Saroj, state general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist,) says that "the state is doing nothing to help impoverished farmers, but is instead trying to acquire their land for commercial purposes."

He told “farmers are forced to end their lives as agriculture has become a loss-making business for them. The scrapping of government subsidies on fertilizers and electricity, and the high cost of equipment and seeds have made agriculture a non-profitable business and life for marginalized farmers more miserable."

Farmers with small land holdings say a state government interest-free agricultural loan has not helped, since high overheads are preventing them from making a profit. As a result they are unable to pay back these loans.

Shivraj Patel, a farmer from Satna district, set himself on fire recently after bank officials kept on harassing him to pay back a 19,000 rupee (US$347) lone he had taken out in 2009.

State acquisition of agricultural land for commercial purposes is also driving farmers to suicide. For many, compensation or allocation of land elsewhere has not been forthcoming.  

Farmers have had to resort to novel ways of protest, such as standing in neck deep water or threatening to torch themselves on funeral pyres.

A team appointed by the federal government has accused the state government of forcibly acquiring farm land from vulnerable people through threats and other illegal means.

Several regional parties, meanwhile, have forged an alliance in the state to fight against forced acquisitions in a bid to save farmers from killing themselves.

The state government simply says some farmers have killed themselves as a result of the hike in fertilizer prices.

According to RS Tiwari, a former professor of economics at Bhopal's Academy of Administration, the state government’s projection of high agriculture growth has not helped bring about any change in the plight of poor farmers. 

Unless the government comes up with a policy to help them, these farmers will not be able to sustain themselves, he said.

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