13 hurdles to ex-gratia

13 hurdles to ex-gratia

The average age of the farmers committing suicide is 36 years. They are part of joint families where land is not distributed. When a woman loses her...

The average age of the farmers committing suicide is 36 years. They are part of joint families where land is not distributed. When a woman loses her husband, she goes to her parents' place. When a son dies, the father does not get the certificate identifying him as dependent; because, officially speaking, son is considered a dependent on father, but not vice versa
K Ramachandra Murthy Adilabad and Anantapur are two districts with entirely different weather and climatic conditions. While the rainfall in Adilabad is very high; it is spotty in Anantapur, virtually turning most areas into a desert. Adilabad can boast of many rivers and rivulets. But the area under cultivation is less than the area cultivated in Mahaboobnagar district. Anantapur district has been facing drought since 2001, except for one year. Due to lack of rains, the cultivated area has shrunk to half. Farmers are disposing of their lands and migrating to Bengaluru and other cities to take up menial jobs.
The reasons for the suicides by farmers have more to do with the weather extremes and insensitivity of the administration than endemic seasonal factors. The plight of the bereaved families of farmers who committed suicide owing to debts on account of agriculture is pitiable. The GO that was brought with the intention of helping the hapless families has become a powerless instrument, mainly because most of the revenue officials are making its implementation impossible. The GO No 421, which is supposed to facilitate ex gratia payment for all eligible bereaved families, requires rather complicated paperwork. In all, 13 types of documents are required: FIR, Panchanama (the report of the policeman), Post Mortem Report (PMR), Final Report by Police (PFR), Forensic Scientific Report (to be obtained at Kamareddy laboratory in Nizamabad district or Red Hills laboratory in Hyderabad), Pattedar Pass Book photocopy, documents of bank loans, private loan documents, dependent certificate (whom to pay compensation?), Pahani showing that the deceased was actually cultivating the land, ration card, MLVC report and DLVC report. All the documents are essential for the process to be completed. Only after the DRO (District Revenue Officer) receives these documents the ex gratia amount would be released. The farmers who are distressed enough to consider ending their lives are mostly tenants who cannot produce pass books. A tenancy agreement is seldom executed, as things are settled by word of mouth and in good faith. One fact that has not been publicised is that out of 35, 898 farmers who committed suicide in AP between 1995 and 2012, about 6000 were women. The land is generally not registered in the name of women farmers. Even the promissory notes that farmers give do not mention the names of womenfolk. Upon enquiry, the MROs merely say that they have not received any application for ex gratia payment. They do this though all suicides are recorded by the police under section 174 Cr.P.C. and all such reports go to MRO office. If the MRO accepts that the death was due to debts taken for agriculture, the family is eligible for ex gratia and other facilities like Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) cards. One family can get 36 kilos of rice on the AAY card, whereas only 12 kg are given on BPL (Below Poverty Line) card, which is also called 'white ration card'. Not a single AAY card was issued in the last three years, according to B Kondal Reddy, a committed activist of the Rythu Swarajya Vedika and Caring Citizens Collective, which help families of farmers who die due to unnatural causes. The average age of the farmers committing suicide is 36 years. They are part of joint families where land is not distributed. When a woman loses her husband, she goes to her parents' place. When a son dies, the father does not get the certificate identifying him as dependent; because, officially speaking, son is considered a dependent on father, but not vice versa. It is not difficult for revenue officials to collect the necessary documents if they are keen on doing their job and helping the bereaved families of the farmers. But majority of them choose not to do it. On an average, there have been two suicide cases per mandal in a year. For instance, in the case of Warangal district which has 51 mandals, there were 102 suicides in 2012. In Medak district, there are 46 mandals from where 85 suicides were reported last year. This implies the MROs were not able to send reports on two suicides in a year. This is just one indication of official apathy and lack of humanitarian attitude. Another problem is transfers. If an MRO is transferred, the new MRO who takes charge simply does not bother to take up any old case. Transfers in the Revenue Department are very frequent. For instance, Mahaboobabad has seen 50 RDOs in as many years. Madhusudan Naik, present incumbent, is the 51st RDO there. He took charge only a fortnight ago. There are some honorable exceptions. Some revenue officials are kind hearted. Divya, IAS, as Sub-Collector, Bhuvanagiri in Nalgonda district, was extremely cooperative. She visited all the affected families during her tenure there. She was transferred after only ten months of committed service. When we visited Anantapuram, the services of YV Anuradha as district collector were recollected by the common people. She granted maximum number of ex gratia payments. She personally visited the families and ensured that the compensation reached them. Another name referred to by the people with a sense of gratitude was that of Janardhana Reddy who worked as collector. The main problem seems to be at the level of MROs. Reconciling reports prepared by various departments that capture specific data is another hell of a job. The three reports submitted by the officials of the Police, Revenue and Agriculture departments have to tally on matters pertaining to basic data. The Agriculture Officer generally says the rainfall has been good and also records the yield as good. The police report is perceived to be more factual and sympathetic to the affected family. The police report would mention that the family borrowed money for cultivating cotton or groundnut, performing marriage of a daughter and educating the children. Craftily the MRO leaves out the cotton or groundnut part and takes into account only marriage and education. There is a general feeling among the people that the revenue officials have some unwritten instructions not to recognise debts on account of agriculture as reason for farmers' suicide. Kondal Reddy opines the police report should be accepted as final. MROs rarely go to the spot. If a report has to be comprehensive, all the details such as rainfall, average yield, loan particulars and details of the expenditure have to be furnished. If the revenue official says the suicide is not on account of debts related to agriculture, the report is simple. Most of the times, the report is given on phone by VRO (Village Revenue Officer) or RI (Revenue Inspector) which is recorded by MRO. Laziness on the part of an MRO and his subordinates can further devastate the affected families, rubbing salt into their wounds. A dutiful MRO will have to summon all private lenders, examine documents and make field visits to check the status of bore wells. This means hard work which not many MROs are willing to undertake. District review meetings are held once in three months at the district headquarters. The participants discuss only rainfall and status of agriculture. There has never been a specific discussion on the suicides by farmers, according to informed sources. Besides the MROs, the lenders also cause misery to the bereaved families. They agree in the presence of MROs for one-time settlement. But later they apply pressure, often threatening womenfolk that they would throw out the belongings of the house if the loans are not repaid in full. They also threaten to auction the house. Sometimes the houses are locked up by force. The main demands of voluntary agencies working in the field to help the families of the deceased farmers are that the ex gratia payment has to be linked mainly to the FIR. Likewise, AAY cards should be given promptly to the affected family upon due identification. All this can happen if top revenue officers see to it that lower level officials behave like public servants in the true sense of the term.
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