As farm debt pushes Punjab farmers to suicide, demand for loan relief set to grow

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Farmer groups in Punjab say they will be forced to start an agitation against the AAP state government if full agricultural debt relief is not announced soon

Farmer groups in Punjab say they will be forced to start an agitation against the AAP state government if full agricultural debt relief is not announced soon

A recent study on farmer suicide in Punjab by Ludhiana-based Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) found that in six districts of the state, up to 9,291 farmers died by suicide between the years 2000-2018 and about 88% of the suicide cases were a fallout from farm-related debts.

The relatively higher number of debt-related suicides is poised to bring the issue of “farm loan debt relief” back into the spotlight again in the near future, as groups of farmers across the state plan to corner the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in power. government on their long-standing demand to announce a full waiver of farm debt.

“Farmer suicides statewide are only on the rise, the government should forfeit all outstanding loans, whether private or government, to farmers and laborers. We were hoping for concrete action would be announced to that effect in the state budget, but there is nothing. The government has not even given a roadmap regarding the measures to be taken to support the agricultural sector.”Sarvan Singh PandherGeneral Secretary, Punjab Unit of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee

“Farmers have been calling for full loan forgiveness for a long time, but successive governments have paid no heed. The AAP government’s current attitude towards agricultural loan waivers is also disappointing. If the government’s apathy towards farmers continues, then farmers of different outfits will join hands and start agitation against the state government. If by September 15 the government does not take decisive action on loan relief, we will, under the leadership of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), begin our fight for loan relief,” said said Jagmohan Singh, General Secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union Ekta (Dakaunda) Told The Hindu on Sunday.

Buying crops from MSP

Sarvan Singh Pandher, secretary general of the Punjab unit of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh committee, said the Punjab government should ensure full loan waiver for farmers and simultaneously work on a policy to make farming profitable, to which the announcement and purchase of crops at the minimum support price (MSP) is the first important step that must be taken by the government.

“Farmer suicides statewide are only on the rise, the government should forfeit all outstanding loans, whether private or government, to farmers and laborers. We were hoping for concrete action would be announced in the state budget, but there is nothing. The government has not even given a roadmap on the measures to be taken to support the agricultural sector. We are not founding large hopes on the AAP government, but let’s wait another 2-3 months; if no action is taken on the loan relief and other farmers’ demands, we will be forced to start an unrest,” he said .

Sukhdev Singh Korikalan, General Secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), one of the largest organizations in Punjab, also strongly believes in the importance of the government announcing a full waiver of the loan. “It is the ill-conceived policies of central and state governments that have made farmers fall into the debt trap. The main reason farmers fall into the debt trap is the lack of MSP on all crops. We want MSP to be advertised for all crops and guaranteed to be purchased,” he said.

Study in four phases

A joint study titled ‘Farmer Suicides in Punjab – Incidence, Causes, and Policy Suggestions’ – in the six districts of Punjab was carried out by the Department of Economics and Sociology, PAU, in four phases for the period 2000 to 2018 by Sukhpal Singh (Senior Economist), Manjeet Kaur (Senior Agricultural Economist) and HS Kingra (Senior Agricultural Economist).

The first survey phase was conducted in Bathinda and Sangrur between 2000 and 2008, followed by another phase which included four districts – Barnala, Ludhiana, Mansa and Moga for the period 2000–10. The third phase survey was conducted in 2016 in the six districts for the period 2000-2015. The fourth phase investigation was undertaken in 2019, in which the cases of death of farmers by suicide in these six districts for the period 2016 to 2018 were studied.

This study consolidates the total number of farmer suicide deaths reported in all surveys from 2000 to 2018. All villages under the jurisdiction of the six districts were covered by the house-to-house and village-to-village survey. . .

Sinister situation

Pointing out that the high rate of suicides in the six districts of Punjab highlights the grim situation of farmers in the state, the study notes that in these six districts, as many as 9,291 farmers died by suicide between 2000 and 2018 The highest suicide rate was seen in Sangrur district with 2,506 reported suicide cases, followed by 2,098 suicides in Mansa, 1,956 in Bathinda, 1,126 in Barnala, 880 in Moga and 725 in Ludhiana. The number of suicide cases was highest (630) in 2008 and decreased thereafter. This decline in suicide cases may be the result of the Union Government’s “Debt Relief Scheme” launched in 2008. Overall, about 88% of farmers died by suicide due to heavy debt burden, according to the study.

Professor Sukhpal said in the study that suicide victims were categorized as debt and non-debt based on level of debt per acre of land, level of family income and assets (including land) owned and assets sold by the family to repay the debt. “Based on this criterion, the study findings revealed that approximately 88% of suicide cases fell into the debt category and the remaining 12% were due to non-debt related reasons. distribution by farm size clearly shows that the main reason for the suicides of small farmers was heavy indebtedness, as more than 89% of these victims were motivated by heavy indebtedness compared to large farmers, where cases related to indebtedness were about 57%. As farm size increases, the proportion of suicide cases with heavy debt decreases. About 43% of large farmers died by suicide for reasons unrelated to debt” , did he declare.

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