The four cases of farmer suicides in Odisha that surfaced within a month have put the Naveen Patnaik government in the dock, once again, with the issue doubling the heat in the state Assembly in session. While a new case was reported from Balasore district (second from the district) last Sunday, two more had come from Ganjam and Bargarh districts. In all the cases, the farmers were debt-ridden.
The party that is yet to recover from the spasms that the panchayat election results left on it and is busy re-strategising, witnessed a tumultuous beginning of the Assembly when agriculture minister Pradeep Maharathy hush-hushed the suicide by a Bargarh farmer Khainu Bagarti on 27 February as the outcome of a domestic wrangling. With growing public outrage and the Leader of Opposition moving a breach of privilege notice against the minister for misleading the Assembly, Maharathy changed his statement attributing the suicide to heavy debts that forced the farmer to take the drastic step. He, however, blamed the district collector of misinforming him.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 1,895 farmers have committed suicide in the state between 2005 and 2015. Quoting from the report, the minister stated a factsheet in the Assembly mentioning that of the ten years, 2006 accounted for 283 deaths, the highest, followed by 260 in 2008 and 254 in 2005. As many as 240 farmers ended their lives in 2007.
Odisha accounts for 3 to 7 percent of the total farmer suicides in the country, the minister cited from the report. This comes as a big shock to the Naveen Patnaik government which has been claiming that 82 lakh families have moved above the BPL list in the last few years. However, without accepting the reality, which is trickling down from districts, the minister kept citing examples from the report that more farmer suicides were reported from Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu during the period.
More than sounding gibberish, such statements make the public suspect the government's intentions especially when a grave issue such as farmers suicides is presented as a competition to prove who's better than the worst.
The average monthly income of a farmer in Odisha is Rs 4,976 as per records from 2012-13, which is much below the national average of Rs 6,426 and the Odisha government has accepted it. While Punjab tops the list with an average income of Rs 18,059 per month for farmers, Haryana and Kerala follow at Rs 14,434 and Rs 11,889 respectively.
The state government had announced Rs 100 bonus per quintal of paddy for the drought affected farmers last year but there has been no accountability. This year too, the Odisha government declared crop insurance for the farmers who are battling to come out of the debt trap, but by the time the benefit reaches the affected, the damage would have aggravated. The official paraphernalia to form committees and inquiries, followed by letters to the centre and release of funds, do not provide succour to the farmers who are left with no option but take drastic steps as committing suicide.
It is pertinent to mention here that months ago the farmers from all districts had launched an agitation demanding price, prestige and pension among other benefits like subsidy and insurance. But the government paid no heed.
With farmer suicides becoming an annual crisis, instead of niggling on allegations and refutations, the government should get into a "fighting the menace" mode and send teams who could provide financial relief to the smallest of farmers in the remotest districts at the earliest. A step like this doesn’t seem onerous especially looking at the manpower that the government has. Moreso, since the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) which is in power in the state, performed poorly in the last panchayat election with the BJP taking over 293 seats. The BJD should ensure that resuscitation is done forthwith keeping in mind the 2019 General Election to the Lok Sabha also because farmers form a majority in the state.
To this, add the starvation death case that poured in from Kalahandi on Monday, and the Opposition has more fuel to create a ruckus in the Assembly and seek an answer from the party in power.
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Updated Date: Mar 28, 2017 17:12:40 IST