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Farmer Suicides: How state governments distort numbers to mitigate the issue

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By Vasudha Kaul

With the recent suicide of Gajendra Singh, a farmer from Rajasthan, the concern over abysmally high farmer suicides in India has come to focus again. The article attempts to understand what and why of this issue.

The occurrence of farmer suicides is universal. In 2014, farmer suicide was the leading cause of death of US farmers, in the UK there was one farmer suicide per week, Australia had 2000 and France recorded 150 farmer suicides that year. But the Indian numbers are overwhelming.

courtesy: allindiayouth.com

Records from National Crime Records Bureau show that at least 300,000 Indian farmers have taken their lives from 1995-2013.

The question to be asked is if, as the government and private organizations such as Monsanto claim that unsolvable personal and climatic reasons have led to the high number of farmer suicides or is there a problem that can be actively addressed.

Many authors and activists claim that this number is a highly skewed and conservative estimate.

In 2011, the Chhattisgarh government declared zero farm deaths, even when their 2010 count was 1567.

Many states and UTs such as West Bengal and Pondicherry have followed suit and declared zero figures.

The state governments try to distort these statistics in an attempt to highly minimize the extent and intensity of the problem. Even with the skewed numbers, the rate of farmer suicide has increased from 2001 to 2011.

With the advent of 1991 and the liberalization efforts, there were no national barriers to the free movement of capital, which severely affected the already vulnerable, Indian agrarian sector, as it became a victim of global crests and troughs of prices.

P. Sainath, one of the leading authors and activists in this arena, claims there was a constant rise in the farmer suicides from 1995, even with other conditions such as the weather being constant. In addition to this, the type of seed grown by the farmer often depends on government’s insistence via policies and initiatives, which promote diversification leading away from the food crops and towards the export-intensive cash crops.

Hence farmers, are limited in the range of crops they can grow. This was exacerbated by the introduction of genetically engineered/ modified (GM) seeds especially that of the transgenic Bt. cotton in India, which has led to the formation of the cotton belt.

The ‘Cotton Belt’ is the area extending from Hyderabad north to Nagpur and east to the state of Gujarat, where almost 250,000 cotton-growing farmers have committed suicide since 1997.

These factors lead to an increase in the input cultivation cost. This soaring input cost is not supported from the government’s side by institutionalized credit, which then leads to farmers taking loans from the private moneylenders often creating a debt trap forcing them to suicide.

Personal problems are cited as a major reasons of farmer suicides in government reports. There is no discussion of the fact that the same social values are changing, albeit in different degrees, in other occupations or even in urban areas.

While suicide rates are increasing in all spheres of life, the question of the appalling increase in farmer suicide in India is left unanswered. Since the source of the agrarian problem is defined simplistically, the remedial methods are also temporary. Any method that provides temporary relief is necessary but is not a substitute for inclusive policy intervention to deal with the crisis.

Gajendra Singh, in his own way, attempted a social protest. But the nature of protest has changed from large-scale farm mobilizations to suicide, which often falls on deaf ears. Comprehending this change will be an important factor in understanding the ways to mitigate this issue.

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(Vasudha Kaul is a graduate student at The University of Oxford and is reading in Modern Indian Studies.)

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Three Projects Help India to Stop its Share of Water to Pakistan after Pulwama

The waters of the western rivers - the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab - averaging around 135 MAF, were allocated to Pakistan.

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Picture Courtesy:-www.economylead.com

The government has envisaged three projects to give intent to its decision to stop its share of water from three eastern rivers of the Indus system – the Beas, Ravi and Sutlej – from going to Pakistan.

The decision was affirmed by Water Resource Minister Nitin Gadkari on Thursday in the wake of Pulwama terror attack though the Union cabinet had approved implementation of one of the key projects – Shahpurkandi dam – in December last year.

The waters of the western rivers – the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab – averaging around 135 MAF, were allocated to Pakistan except for “specified domestic, non-consumptive and agricultural use permitted to India”, according to a treaty.

India has also been given the right to generate hydroelectricity through run-of-the-river (RoR) projects on the western rivers which, subject to specific criteria for design and operation, is unrestricted.

pakistan, india, water ban
However, about 2 MAF of water annually from Ravi is reported to be still flowing unutilised to Pakistan. VOA

To utilise the waters of the Eastern rivers, India has constructed the Bhakra Dam on Satluj, Pong and Pandoh Dam on Beas and Thein (Ranjitsagar) on Ravi. These storage works, together with other works like Beas-Sutlej Link, Madhopur-Beas Link and Indira Gandhi Nahar Project have helped India utilise nearly the entire share (95 per cent) of the eastern river waters.

However, about 2 MAF of water annually from Ravi is reported to be still flowing unutilised to Pakistan. The other two projects are Ujh multipurpose project and the second Ravi Beas link below Ujh.

Here’s the reality check of the three projects:

Shahpurkandi Project: It aims to utilise the waters coming from powerhouse of Thein dam in order to irrigate 37,000 hectares of land in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab by generating 206 MW of power.

The project was scheduled to be completed by September 2016. However, following a dispute between the two states, work was suspended in August 2014 but they reached an agreement last September and the construction work has now resumed with the Centre monitoring its progress. The central government had in December last year announced assistance of Rs 485 crore for the project and it would be completed by June 2022.

 

India, pakistan, pulwama, water ban
The decision was affirmed by Water Resource Minister Nitin Gadkari on Thursday in the wake of Pulwama terror attack. VOA

The project will create irrigation potential of 5,000 hectare in Punjab and 32,173 hectare in Jammu and Kashmir.

Officials said that some water of the Ravi is going waste through the Madhopur Headworks downstream to Pakistan and it is required in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir.

The total balance cost of pending work in ShahpurKandi Dam project is estimated Rs 1,973.53 crore (irrigation component: Rs 564.63 crore, power component Rs1408.90 crore).

The Shahpurkandi Project was initially approved by the Planning Commission in November, 2001. Revised costs were approved, but there was delay in its execution both because of lack of funds with Punjab and inter-state issues with Jammu and Kashmir.

An agreement was finally reached between the two states under the aegis of Water Resources Ministry in September last year.

Ujh multipurpose project: Construction of the Ujh multipurpose project will create a storage of about 781 million cubic metres of water on Ujh, a tributary of Ravi, for irrigation and power generation and provide a total irrigation benefits of 31,380 hectares in Kathua, Hiranagar and Samba districts of Jammu and Kashmir.

The total estimated cost of the project is Rs 5,850 crore and the Central assistance of Rs 4,892.47 crore on works portion of irrigation component as well as the special grant is under consideration. The project is yet to be implemented and it will take about six years for completion.

Second Ravi Beas link below Ujh: The project has been planned to tap excess water flowing down to Pakistan through Ravi by constructing a barrage across it for diverting water through a tunnel link to the Beas basin.

The project is expected to utilise about 0.58 MAF of surplus waters below Ujh dam by diverting the same to the Beas basin.

 

india, pakistan, water share, pulwama
Officials said that some water of the Ravi is going waste through the Madhopur Headworks downstream to Pakistan and it is required in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. Wikimedia

The water distribution treaty between India and Pakistan was brokered by the World Bank in 1960 to use the water available in the Indus system of rivers originating in India.

 

ALSO READ: IOC Cancels Places for 2020 Tokyo Games from India after it Refused Visas to Pakistan

The Indus system comprises Indus, Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers. The basin is mainly shared by India and Pakistan with a small share for China and Afghanistan.

Under the treaty signed between India and Pakistan in 1960, all the waters of the three eastern rivers, averaging around 33 million acre feet (MAF), were allocated to India for exclusive use.  (IANS)