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Free Trade Drives Indian Farmers to Suicide
Congress ministers fail to spell out new program
Amaninder Pal Sharma (amaninder)     Print Article 
Published 2006-09-27 18:50 (KST)   
Eleven deaths in 24 hours. These 11 humans belonged to Vidharba region of Maharastra, and the 24 hours were the day on which the Indian prime minister was busy with United Progressive alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi and chief ministers of Congress in Nainital (Uttatanchal) to make some new plans to curb the problem of suicides by farmers, which seems to be the new fashion among debt-ridden farm families.

You may not be the first person to read an article about the suicides of farmers in India and I may not be the first who has written about it. But how can we ignore this issue, which has compelled thousands of farmers in India to commit suicide?

Sarkari Darugade is a farmer from Brhman Gaon village of northeast Maharashtra. He had to repay his loan installment of Rs130,000 (US$2,800). So he had to sell the cattle for this purpose. But his son Vijay didn't want this. Dasgude went and sold the cattle. But when his son reached the shed and found animals missing, he committed suicide.

Kashinath Ravan Kolge, a farmer from Marathwada region of central Maharashtra, had taken Rs130,000 loan to dig a bore well, but didn't find any water. After losing all his money, he committed suicide. Now his daughter-in-law earns Rs300 ($6.50) per month by cooking the mid-day meal in a school.

In Vidhatrbha region alone, the count of suicide was 728 from Aug. 1 2005 to Aug. 20 2006. 97 deaths were reported this September alone, and 298 deaths reported after the Prime Minister's visit in July. Now the rate of suicide is increased from two suicides per day to one suicide every eight hours. And the top leader of government, alias Chief Minister of State, said, "Why do people insist on killing themselves? The state and central governments had worked too hard to make their package work."

But where is the answer to the international level conflict that compelled the farmers of not only Vidharbha but the whole of India to commit suicide: i.e., free trade? Can the farmer of India compete with educated and scientific farmers of Western countries and the United States in the absence of any subsidy? According to one report submitted by the Center for Science and Environment, "In the U.S., one kilogram of cotton production costs Rs79.90 ($1.70) but is sold for Rs55.40 ($ 1.18). But to compensate for this loss, 20,000 cotton producers in the U.S. get subsidies of $4 billion -- roughly Rs10 million per farmer in the form of subsidy."

Now compare this figure with India. Here in Vidharba, 3 million farmers spend Rs3000/quintal but get only Rs1750/quintal in return. Even worse, the government reduced the Minimum Support Price from 2250 last year to 1750 this year. But the cost of inputs increased a lot. A urea bag cost Rs80 in the 1990s but now it cost Rs280. A pesticide bottle cost Rs40 in the 1990s but now it costs Rs240. In this scenario how can one think about the survival of Indian farmers?

The same reason is behind the struggle against the procurement of wheat from other countries at the rate of Rs1400/quintal, while the government has never taken pain to pay its own farmers more than Rs800-900/quintal.

Due to the same reason of open market and free trade, both cotton farming and small scale cotton industry are in their final moments, as the whole power of the developed world and its multinational corporations is concentrated upon the issue of destroying the national industry of the developing world. Between 1997-2003, India imported 11 million bales of cotton, which is the highest ever since independence. On the international market, the price of cotton lint fell from $1.10 to 38 cents in 1998; this was sufficient to dismantle the small scale industry of India. However the import tariff on cotton is only 10 percent, compared to 60 percent and 80 percent in the case of sugar and rice.

The phenomenon of suicide which gained momentum in the whole country after the 1990s marked the clear effect of free trade on farmers and workers in small scale industries of India. Not only cotton, but workers in industries of hosiery, weaving, oil extraction from seeds like sunflower, etc., were also compelled to commit suicide. But now the eminent economists and politicians, who forcefully support free trade, keep mum over the issue as they know the real reason for this. Today the prime minister, who was finance minister in the 90s, knows the reason well, but also knows his inability to curb this phenomenon permanently. That's why the state and central governments are unable to develop any effective program to uplift the economic conditions of farmers. The real reason is consciously left unnoticed every time

Dr. B.L. Mungeker, member of the planning commission and an eminent agricultural economist, stressed developing irrigation projects, but has no answer about multi-million dollar hydro projects that displaced millions of people from their native land but is unable to provide water to lands of farmers.

Approaches to communities by the government and its different programs to educate farmers secured zero results. A typical example of this is that farmers of the western region of Maharashtra grow crops that requires 2500 mm of water per hectare but the land of western Maharashtra requires 5-10 times more water for this crop. Why, even after setting up large agricultural universities and research centers, can't the government spend some rupees to educate farmers?

According to one report by Tata Institute of Social Science, "The causes of suicidesmay be common occurences like repeated crop failure, rising costs of inputs, indebtness, etc.; but the root cause is globalization and neglect of the agricultural community."

Though the National Commission on farmers was formed in 2004, it took two years to make a final draft of the First National Policy for Farmers. It recommends crop insurance, commissions for agriculture cost, and pricing that determines the minimum Support Price. It may take long to be implemented. Thousands of lives might be saved if proper steps would be taken early.

"The Constitution guarantees the right to life and personal liberty. The values which underlie Article 21 of the constitution are seriously eroded by deaths on such systemic scale. The suicides that have occurred are as much due to failure of social and economic development to reach the poor." That was the Judgment of Bombay High Court in response to one public interest petition. What more shameful can be for a government that Judiciary had to intervenes just to teach the government about its duties?

It would be better if the prime minister and his cliques made some solid decision on farmers' condition and rethink about free trade or increase restrictions and tariffs on imported goods. I think this will be the only way to pull farmers out of this economic crisis.

©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Amaninder Pal Sharma

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