The family of young cotton farmer Kailash Jhade wanted to marry him off before the cash crop season began in June. The timing is considered auspicious, and symbolizes hope. But the family’s hopes were dashed when they discovered their eldest son’s body in a communal well a few weeks ago. Why did he kill himself? “Mounting debt,” his family said. The plight of 3.2 million cotton growers in Maharashtra’s cotton-growing region of Vidarbha is no different. For men such as these, the debt trap proves a death trap. Crippling debts have resulted in nearly 600 farmers committing suicide since June last year. On average, three farmers are killing themselves here every day. And usually the final straw is a blizzard of money-lenders’ threats and bank notices. It is a fact the inspite of canceling the 750 crores of money taken from bank and the arrest 1800 private money lenders, the state has not been able to stop the increasing rate of death of farmers. For the ruling democratic front, this has become an issue of shame and in every assembly session. Navi Mumbai News traveled to a few areas and spoke to farmers. During his recent visit to the city, Navi Mumbai News Correspondent Rajeev Msihra quested Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh on these lines who accepted that there was an urgent need to address the issue. Experts say that that since the cause of farmer suicide is mostly loan availed from private moneylenders, it is necessary that the government target this area. They could provide farmers by food for a couple of months and address their other basic needs. The government then should float schemes to help farmers repay their loans from private moneylenders and get the possession of their lands. And in the meantime the government can find a solution for the problem. In any case the state’s relief package is yet to reach most farmers and those who do simply find that it is deducted from their debt. For many, the only way to repay debts is to take out new ones. But with banks turning poor farmers away, the only recourse is the “sahukar”, the village money-lender. Interest rates vary, but go as high as 25%. The government has till date proved unwilling and ill-resourced when it comes to regulating the private money-lenders. Farmers say that if the government is serious it should fix private lending rate at 5% or 6% and bring in a legislation on sahukars or private moneylenders.
August 5, 2006