Op-Ed: Being In Denial Mode Will Not Stop Farmer Suicides

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The latest incident of farmer suicide from a village in Balasore district has raised a question mark over state government’s claim that factors like loan burden or crop loss have nothing to do with such cases. If media reports are to be believed the family members of the deceased, Sumant Kumar Behera, have sought to emphasize that he was forced to take the extreme step because of crop failure and loan burden.

As many as 38 farmers have committed suicide in the state during last three years but government asserts that none of these cases can be linked to either crop loss or debt burden. This is a perennial debate. The government may have its own compulsions in not attributing these deaths to factors like crop loss or debts but the ground reality in most areas of the state is entirely different.

For example there is no denying the fact that rainfall has been deficient in a large number of districts this time triggering fears of a drought. With several areas yet to have assured irrigation facilities rainfall shortage is bound make the farmers despondent. It is common knowledge that small and marginal farmers procure loans from various sources before any cropping season. The ambitious among them sometimes take big loans in the hope of making big profits. It is a kind of gamble.

This phenomenon is more visible in western Odisha districts where the “ mahajan” culture has been flourishing since decades. Mahajans being unrelenting loan sharks use every trick in the bag to get their money back. Hence when the crop fails and farmers find themselves unable to repay the loans sometimes they take the extreme step of taking their own lives.

The government is to blame for this phenomenon because of two reasons, the first and the most important being its failure to put an end to the “ mahajan” culture. This is a relic of the feudal days when the bonded labour system flourished in several parts of the state. The principal amount of the loans procured by the poor never got repaid because of the Shylockian interest rates. The debtor then became a lifelong bonded labour doing the bidding of the creditor who turned into his master.

It is a feudal system fuelled by the rapacious greed of rural money lenders that still survives. An obvious anachronism in our modern times this tradition of money lending is a curse which should be stamped out as soon as possible. This would be possible only when we make our institutional lending system easily accessible to farmers and instil confidence among them about its efficacy.

Equally important for the government is to ensure that round the year irrigation facilities are available to farmers in all parts of the state. For this we not only need to have more irrigation schemes but we should also see to it that they are properly executed. For example we still hear complaints of water not reaching the tail end of canals in many areas of the state. This begets resentment. The phenomenon of farmer suicides in the state will come to an end only when we are able to address these problems.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)