If only the revenue officials had a heart�

If only the revenue  officials had a heart�

The wives of the deceased farmers have been shouldering the huge burden of single-handedly bringing up the children and more importantly dealing with...

The wives of the deceased farmers have been shouldering the huge burden of single-handedly bringing up the children and more importantly dealing with impatient lenders. The suicides are mostly by cotton farmers in Adilabad district. They generally belong to OBCs, though there are Dalits also in some villages. K Ramachandra Murthy Thousands of farmers in Andhra Pradesh have committed suicide over almost two decades. This has been also the case with farmers in Maharashtra to a large extent and those of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to a limited extent. There were 35,898 suicides by farmers in AP between 1995 and 2012. The families of only 5,686 of those who ended their lives have been recognised as related to agriculture and hence eligible for ex gratia payment, while the rest have been struggling to even be in the reckoning for such payment. The indifference on the part of the government officials is the main reason for the misery of the bereaved families of hapless farmers. YS Rajasekhara Reddy, who came to power in 2004 as a champion of farmers, did appoint a committee headed by Prof Jayati Ghosh. Most of the recommendations of the committee were sought to be implemented, though some were found to have been diluted later. Jayati herself expressed her disappointment at the tardy progress of implementation during her subsequent visits to the State. GO No 421 was issued on June 1, 2004, within days of YSR taking over the reins, creating a mechanism to take note of the suicides and ensure ex gratia payments to the dependents of the farmers who died. According to the system put in place, a Mandal Level Verification Committee (MLVC) would first examine the details submitted by the police department and the revenue department on the causes of suicide and determine whether the suicide was on account of the burden of debts related to agriculture. The MLVC comprises three members -Tahsildar (MRO), Sub-Inspector and Agriculture Officer. The MLVC would send its report to DLVC (District Level Verification Committee) comprising RDO, DSP and AD (Assistant Director, Agriculture). Once the DLVC recommends ex gratia payment, usually there would be no hitch at the level of District Collector who signs the check. Where does the problem lie then? The recommendations of the Mandal Revenue Officer (MRO) are generally accepted by the RDO. If a case is determined as suicide related to agriculture, initially an amount of Rs 50,000 is paid by the MRO concerned to lenders as one-time settlement. This applies only in the case of private lenders who are summoned by the MRO for discussions. They are persuaded to accept the principal amount without interest. Sometimes even the principal amount is not paid fully if the amount involved in settlement adds up to more that the sanctioned amount. Then the lenders are asked to take from the amount offered by the MRO on pro rata basis. Loans taken from banks keep haunting the families of the deceased. Only once did YSR government give a waiver that applied to bank loans as well. GO 421 was very helpful to begin with and many of the families were paid ex gratia. While the number of families identified as eligible for ex gratia payment from the government stood at 104, 180, 192, 321 and 304 in the years 1998 to 2003 respectively (before the GO was issued), the number went up in 2004 to 1178. Then it went down progressively to 654, 561, 512 488 and 321 -- till 2009, at the end which YSR was killed in an air crash. During the last four years the government has been unkind to the families of the farmers who are no more. In all, 259 families were identified as eligible for ex gratia payment in 2010, 260 families in 2011 and 93 in 2012. To know the ground realities and to highlight the plight of struggling farmers and the miseries of bereaved families of farmers who committed suicide, HMTV and The Hans India, with the help of leaders of farming community, had formed an organization called Rythu Rakshana Vedika in May this year. It was decided to hold public hearings in all the regions of the State so as to prepare regional manifestos. The idea is to assemble a State level manifesto for farmers, based on the regional manifestos, which would be presented to all political parties with a request to incorporate the same in their election manifestos. The first of the public hearing titled "Vyvasayam-Dasha Disha" was held on June 23, 2013, at Nirmal in Adilabad district where the maximum number of suicides were reported. Hundreds of people from all sections of society participated in the meeting that was telecast live by HMTV from 6 pm to 9 pm. The second such public hearing took place at Anantapur on July 7, 2013. The third meeting is going to be held at Amalapuram -- the main town in Konaseema, the rice bowl of India, from where farmers shocked the nation last year by declaring a crop holiday, on the 21st. I and a number of farm leaders, including those who have been striving to secure ex gratia payment to the bereaved families and in getting children from such families educated by paying for their tuition fee, hostel stay etc, visited some families which had lost the main breadwinner. The wives of the deceased farmers have been shouldering the huge burden of singlehandedly bringing up the children and more importantly dealing with impatient lenders. The suicides are mostly by cotton farmers in Adilabad district. They generally belong to OBCs, though there are Dalits also in some villages. The farmhands had leased the land from its owners who have since taken up jobs or are doing business in cities. In their enthusiasm to make profits from agriculture and send their children to good schools and colleges, they had borrowed money to pay for the lease and to buy seeds, manures and pesticides. They had to pay also for removing the weed. The cost of inputs sky-rocketed and the yield was less than average for four consecutive years. It is the general phenomenon in Adilabad, Medak and Warangal districts where suicides are on the rise and where cotton is currently grown extensively. There were 12 deaths in a fortnight in November last year in Adilabad district alone. The saddest story is that of a son and father who committed suicide in a week. At Kautla village of Sarangapur mandal, Barla Shankar (35) was cultivating 15 acres of land. He had leased the land, paying Rs 10,000 per acre. His own parcel of the land measures only ten kuntas -- one-fourth of an acre. The rest was taken on rent. Because of continuous rains, the land remained wet which is not good for cotton. He had to spend Rs 30,000 for removing the weed every time. He got weeding done four times a year. His borrowings from banks and private lenders mounted to Rs 5 lakhs. He was hoping against hope every year to clear debts after a good harvest. Every harvest was a disappointment. He used to borrow more to clear piling debts. By the end of the fourth year, he was broke. His confidence was shaken. One day, he had a heated argument with his father who insisted that going for cotton cultivation and borrowing money right and left was a blunder. Crestfallen, Shankar suddenly decided to give up the fight. He went to the nearby forest and consumed poison. Shankar's wife and two children were not aware of his suicide plans. Shankar's father searched for days for his son. The family members and friends found Shankar's skeleton in the forest on the seventh day of his disappearance. By then most of the body had been eaten away by foxes. The family recognized his face and brought the skeleton home. On hearing about the death of his son, a repentant Barla Bhimanna took Porate (Thimet) pills and died on way to hospital. The last rites for both the father and the son were performed on the same day. Govardhan Nynala, an activist who works full time to help families of farmers who die unnaturally, says the villain of the piece is BT cotton which is grown in 10 lakh acres in Adilabad. Farmers who switched from traditional crops to BT cotton have become victims of unsuitable soil conditions, failure of crop and non-remunerative prices. The story of Chelimi Venkataramudu of Kurugunta village in Anantapur rural mandal is equally devastating. The 36 year old Venkataramudu consumed poison on June 2nd, 2013. Moments before his death he informed his wife Alivelu about his extreme step. Venkataramana is like any other farmer who believes in hard work and has faith in future. He took five acres on lease from Pothulaiah at the rate of Rs 8000 per acre. While the death came in the form of cotton in Adilabad district, it is groundnut in Anantapur. Venkataramudu had spent Rs 20,000 per acre every year to sow groundnut. He did not get returns even to recoup his investment. He did not know anything other than cultivation. He had borrowed money from all known sources. He mortgaged seven tolas of gold given to his wife by the in-laws. He got his daughter Sravani married recently. He gave four tolas of gold to the daughter at the time of wedding, promising four more tolas later. Venkataramudu has a son studying X class. The death of Venkatarumudu left the family in extreme distress. Alivelu tried twice to kill herself. Her daughter and son-in-law who work at Anantapuram came to the village and have been living with her. On hearing about the death of Venkataramudu, a head constable came with the writer at the police station to conduct panchanama. Even though Alivelu told him that her husband had committed suicide owing to the burden of debts incurred for cultivation, the writer wrote that the death was on account of family quarrel and the debts contracted for the marriage of their daughter. The fact that the farmer died because of the debt trap was not recorded and the innocent wife of the deceased signed on the dotted lines as told by the police constable. The MRO did not visit the family, according to the son-in-law. The attitude of the officials of the Revenue Department is appalling. We came across many instances where the information given by the family members of the deceased farmers was changed to show that the death was not due to agriculture.
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