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Maharashtra announces psychological health plan to tackle farmer suicides

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By NewsGram Staff-Writer

Mumbai: In order to fight the epidemic of farmer suicides, the Maharashtra government on Friday announced a socio-psychological plan to provide psychological assistance and counseling that may go a long way in preventing farmers from committing suicide.

For representational purpose only. Photo Credit-www.deccanchronicle.com
For representational purpose only. Photo Credit-www.deccanchronicle.com

Maharashtra had been a bed of farmer suicides for last 15 years especially in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions. Vidarbha has seen a rise in the farmer suicides in the last few months. In 2014, a total of 721 farmers committed suicide. But, in 2015, within the first six months, at least 446 farmers have committed suicide.

A Times of India report has quoted the State health minister Dr Deepak Sawant as saying: “We carried out an audit of the suicides committed in the first six months of 2015 and found that there is a small window period in which most farmers who killed themselves were in an indecisive phase on whether to take the step or not. We want to identify this phase in a farmer’s life and intervene effectively.”

The health plan aims to achieve its objective by hiring more psychiatrists and psychologists in the suicide-prone zones, training community health workers, and hiring counselors on a contract basis, as per the TOI report.

The community health workers including Anganwadi workers and accredited social health activists (ASHAs) will conduct a screening test using questioners to assess and analyze the mental health of the farmers.

For the past few months, the government is running a pilot project in Yavatmal and Osmanabad districts and the program is scheduled to be implemented in 12 other districts by October.

The government resolution (GR) states that it would undertake an expansion of psychiatry and psychology departments in the nine district hospitals and five sub-district hospitals.

The overall expenses, as per the estimation of GR, is expected to be around Rs 23.82 crore.

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India’s Farmer Protests Highlight Increasing Rural Distress

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year's scheduled elections.

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Indian what reaches Afghanistan via Chabahar Port
FILE - Farmer sifts wheat crop at a farm on the outskirts of western Indian city of Ahmedabad. VOA

Vimla Yadav, a farmer from India’s Haryana state, says agriculture costs, such as fertilizers and seeds, have soared, yet produce prices have plunged, leaving her family of 10 with virtually no profit from their four-acre farm. “We don’t even get the fruits of the labor that the entire family puts in on the farm, although we slog day and night,” she laments.

Yadav is one of the tens of thousands of angry farmers from around the country who poured into the Indian capital recently, demanding a special session of parliament to discuss their demands: better prices for farm produce and a waiver by the government from repaying loans taken from banks.

The protest highlighted the deepening distress among the population in the countryside, where there is growing concern about diminishing agricultural profits because many are being driven into debt.

In a country where half the population of 1.3 billion depends on agriculture, low farm profits have long been a challenge and prompted promises by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to double rural incomes by 2022. But the growing disenchantment among the farming community could pose a challenge to Modi as he seeks re-election next year.

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Police try to stop farmers during a protest demanding a better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

According to the government, the average income of a farmer is about $100 a month. But many make less, said Yogendra Yadav, one of the main leaders of the protest and founder of the farmers group Jai Kisan Andolan. The Yadavs are not related.

“For a majority of them, the income is probably less than $50 a month. That is the level at which they survive. And one of the principal reasons for that is that they don’t get enough price for their crops,” Yogendra Yadav said.

Low prices for crops are not the only problem: increasingly erratic weather patterns pose a new challenge in a country where nearly half the farmers lack access to irrigation.

In eastern Orissa state, for example, back-to-back droughts over the past two years have brought widespread distress.

“There has been very little rain this year,” said Lakhyapati Sahu, a farmer who traveled from Orissa, one of India’s poorer states. “We face a massive problem due to successive droughts.”

According to various studies, nearly half of Indian farmers have said they want to quit working on the land but cannot do so because of a lack of alternate livelihoods.

Farmer protests, farmer
Police use water cannons to disperse farmers during a protest demanding better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

Despite the challenge of finding work, Parul Haldar, a farmer from West Bengal, said she wants to migrate with her entire family to the city. “I will give up farming and go to Kolkata and look for work to make a living. There is no money to be earned from the farm,” she added.

Although the rural crisis has been festering for many years, economists partly blame the deepening crisis on a sweeping currency ban that led to widespread cash shortages two years ago and affected their incomes.

“Many farmers lost working capital, they had to borrow money from the banks or from the local moneylenders at high interest rates, so their costs went up,” economist Arun Kumar said. “So if costs go up and revenue comes down, then income gets squeezed.”

Protests by farmers have intensified in the past two years as they try to draw attention to the usually forgotten countryside — their recent march was their fourth and largest to Delhi so far this year. They have also held marches in other cities like Kolkata and Mumbai. In June, farmers in several parts of the country threw their produce on the streets to highlight low prices. And last year, farmers from southern India protested in New Delhi with skulls to draw attention to suicides by farmers.

Farmer
The Farmer Portal provides all the relevant information and services to the farming community and private sector. Wikimedia Commons

“Farmers are saying enough is enough, now something needs to be done,” Yogendra Yadav said. “Both the economic and ecological crisis is leading to an existential crisis, farmers are committing suicide, they are quitting farming.”

Also Read: Millions Of Urban Children in Worse Condition Than Rural People: UNICEF

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year’s scheduled elections. Farmers make up an important voting bloc.

“Opposition to Modi is growing. Unless you have rural support, no party can win on [the] basis of urban support only,” said Satish Misra, of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “The distress is real. The agriculture issue needs to be addressed in a very focused manner.” (VOA)