Over a span of last couple of months, two similar and shocking news hit the headlines. First came from the state of UP where government distributed compensation cheques to farmers whose produce were destroyed by the unseasonal rains in March this year. Some farmers in Badaun district were paid a compensation of Rs 75 and Rs 100. After the news came to light, some revenue officials were suspended. Elsewhere, the J&K government issued compensation cheques ranging from Rs 32 to Rs 113 to farmers who lost their crops in the devastating floods last year. In 2013, farmers in Haryana were issued cheques of Rs 2 and Rs 3 as compensation.
Why is it that our government is always in news, for all the wrong reasons, when it comes to solving the issues of our farming community? In a country which depends so heavily on agriculture for its survival, this is not something to be proud of. While all political parties cry hoarse on how much they care for farming community, the continued apathy of successive governments in addressing farmers’ most pressing needs is beyond rational understanding and borders insensitive. Its not without reason that farmers’ protest are a common scene in Delhi, where they converge from across the country with hope and demands.
Compensating farmers for the loss of their produce is one of the pressing problems that continue to boil over low amount given by the government. The unseasonably heavy rains, unexpected hailstorms, and drought are a common phenomenon and what follows next is farmer’s agony and struggle to stay afl oat. When nothing seems to work, then suicide appears to be the only solution for many farmers. It seems like a never ending feud as our farmers have been robbed by our government policies every now and then. It is not only our media that has been focusing on this matter as increasing number of suicides committed by farmers has now become a global issue.
Government policies for agriculture have never been friendly; the rate at which farmers committed suicide witnessed a sudden spike in 1997 when government removed subsidies for cotton. When it comes to climate change farmer suicides tend to increase along with any unexpected weather phenomenon that tends to damage the crops.
As per the figures from the Ministry of Agriculture, the total number of suicides committed by farmers for agrarian reasons in the last three years stands at 3,313. According to a UN report titled International Farmers Suicide Crisis, on an average, there has been one farmer’s suicide every 32 minutes since 2002.
Though climate change has been cited as the prime reason for farmers’ suicides in India, it is also the government policies for agriculture that has to share blame for imposing additional hardships. While we do not have any control over the uncertain climate change the government can certainty decide what compensation policies to formulate to bring relief to the farming community in distress.
Unexpected Climate Woes
In a report titled Global Climate Risk Index 2015, India has been ranked among top three countries that were affected most by weather related loss (storms, floods, heat waves) in 2013. As per experts, these devastating events, especially unexpected weather patterns, will continue to rise. According to India’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, rainfall patterns in peninsular India are expected to become more erratic with a possible decrease in overall rainfall and an increase in extreme weather events.
The agrarian community facing the vagaries of weather has become a phenomenon that comes every year and the government passes this situation with meager compensation. This comes as a double whammy for farmers who are already facing the wrath of low rural incomes and weak global food prices. Many farmers, unable to fend for themselves and left in lurch by the government, commit suicide. In 2009, country witnessed its worst draught since 1972, and 17,000 farmers killed themselves in the same year (National Crime Records Bureau). But the government says there is no clear link of drought to farmer suicides.
Minimal Financial Support
The amount of compensation offered by different state governments has been shocking. After the unseasonal rains damaged the crops in Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, government’s so called compensation aggravated the problem for farmers when they were handed over cheques worth almost nothing as mentioned above. Total compensation of the state government was Rs. 500 crore despite the assessment that the damages in 40 districts alone was worth Rs. 1100 crore.
In Haryana, where compensation as low as Rs. 2 were paid to farmers of Jhajjar district, farmers alleged that officials deliberately miscalculated the loss to the crops by understating the damage during their official survey. Upon asking for photocopies of the cheques, farmers handed over the original cheques as photocopy would have cost more than the compensation value.
In Jammu and Kashmir, to everyone’s surprise, the government defended their compensation amount saying cheques were distributed after carefully assessing the losses by the revenue department and panchayati raj institutions. These are just a few examples of the pathetic conditions in which our farmers have been left by the government. Similar is the case across the country in other states and in different regions.
In all the cases, farmers had refused to cash in the cheques and some others straightaway turned down the compensation amount. Can we really blame farmers for their anger when all they wantedwas reasonable support from the government and what they get in return for their damaged crops were peanuts.
Anoop Sadanadan, a professor of political science at Syracuse University, states that increasing number of farmer suicides is
attributed to financial woes rather than agricultural practices. Such is the plight of our farmers that heis titled as the breadwinner of the nation who himself struggles to provide for his own family.
Even though Prime Minister has announced increase in compensation amount by 50 percent to the affected farmers, the policies are not going to make this move a success.
A circular by the disaster management division of the Union home ministry stated chief secretaries to compensate farmers from the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) and get it reimbursed from the national fund. However,this assistance is only applicable for a first disaster in a financial year; which means in case nature decides to strike again then no adjustment will be made while releasing National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF). The compensation amount fixed by the central government is Rs 4,500 per hectare in non-irrigated areas (those places with no government irrigation facility) and Rs 9,000 per hectare in irrigated area.
According to Pushpendra, a farmer activist in Banda district of UP, even if the state government was paying Rs. 9000 per hectare as crop damage compensation in non-irrigated areas and Rs. 18,000 per hectare in irrigated areas the amount is far less than it should be as the compensation must be more than the input cost per hectare.
Also, the compensation amount will be limited to farmers with a maximum 4.9 acres of land which implies that more than half of
the farmers won’t be eligible for compensation.
At present, the compensation amount depends on crop variety and the respective state. After PM Modi orders, this monetary benefit would increase and farmers would be entitled to compensation even if 33 percent of their crop is damaged as against current practice of paying compensation only if more than 50 percent of the crop has been damaged.
Even with faws the increased compensation and simple eligibility criteria will benefit farmers. But all comes down to how efficiently and swiftly the compensation reaches the farmer as delay in receiving compensation pose another serious problem. Assistance for crop damage should be an immediate move but it often reaches farmer after more than a year. Moreover, it has been noted that segregation of areas based on 33 percent or 50 percent crop damage depends on subjective whims of officials.
Although central and state governments, insurance companies and banks are collaborating to help farmers in crop damage situation but our agrarian community asks for some realistic ground work from the government officials and then rectify the internal systemic defects. Policies have been formed, reformed and changed to match the requirements of farming population but increasing number of suicides by farmers due to unexpected natural calamity is proof enough of how government (no matter which party is on the ruling seat) has failed them every now and then when it comes to compensating them for their losses. More than assurance, our farming community needs the confidence that the government is there to take care of them in case of exigencies, but till now successive governments haven’t done enough to instill that confidence in farmers.Unless and until that happens, our farmers, who are so routinely paid tribute to by politicians, would continue to lose their livelihood and their lives.