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Rising Farmers Suicide: AACHAA, WHO MAR GAYA KYA?, By Poonam I Kaushish, 12 April, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 12 April 2016

Rising Farmers Suicide


By Poonam I Kaushish


“People are dying. You are not serious. This is not some picnic….How can you waste water on stadiums. Are people more important or IPL matches?” Anguished words espoused by the Supreme Court and Bombay High Court as they severely reprimanded three State Governments over its drought preparedness and relief operations. Epitomizing, the country’s ennui to its farmers.


Big deal, year after year everyone goes through the stereotype motions --- famine and relief are freely bandied about. Appropriate noises, hollow concerns and instant remedies are voiced. All satisfied that they have done their bit for the nation. Net result? Zilch.


Consider, even as 10 States battle drought and debt, the Government owes over Rs 8261 crores as unpaid wages and another Rs 3686 crores for materials under its rural job scheme. But it’s all water off a duck’s back.


Worse, so severe is the famine that not only are farmers committing suicide but it has resulted in a full blown public health crisis. Whereby, doctors in drought-struck regions are putting of surgeries as there is no water even to wash their hands!


Take Latur, its five lakh population’s lifeline are water tankers which come every two-three days. Worse, this water is so polluted that people are contracting diseases like jaundice, typhoid and gastroentities. A vicious annual cycle afflicting rural India with merciless States watching as mute spectators.


Raising a moot point:  Does anyone really care?  Do our leaders know the reality of Asli Bharat which they ad nauseum vow to protect. Bluntly, our politicians who follow the dictum ‘might is right’ and operate like Gangs of Wasseypur have not only lost the plot but are out of sync with the reality.


Alas, for them like the Dalits, OBC and minorities, farmers too constitute a large vote-bank. Consequently, our netas talk big about kisans, but do little. Consider. Over 65% of the population lives and works in agriculture, or activities thereof. But, over the last 25 years the share of farming in the economy has shrunk from over 33% to 15%.


Leading to public investment in kheti-baari steadily falling. Look at the absurdity. The Centre earmarks thousands of crores subsidy for fertilizers, but a pittance for other basic agriculture inputs.


This is not all. Since about 67 per cent of the population is still dependent on rain, groundwater continues to be lifted indiscriminately. Resulting in a sharp drop of 3 to 5 per cent every year in the water tables (from 20-30 ft to 300-400 ft). In some areas all the three levels of soil stand exhausted. Add to this, no plans are in the pipeline to decongest highly populated areas, which result in too many tubewells and a lowering of the groundwater table.


The harsh reality is that acute water shortage and unseasonal rains have destroyed crops in over 93.81 lakh hectares in northern India alone till date. In some regions drought-like situations prevail with too little rain resulting in over 40% crop failures due to lack of irrigation, while floods in others have lead to destruction of harvest.


What is indefensible is that the Government was forewarned about the drought. Was it waiting for it to occur and then try and minimize the impact? Some measures to ease the situation are elementary. Why was nothing done to stop deforestation, which has resulted in drought-prone areas retaining less water? What is being done to stop village tanks from being silted?


Believe it or not we don’t have a full-fledged rain-harvesting plan wherein a large part of the problem could be solved by harnessing this technology, which could be optimally managed at the local self-government level. Unfortunately, politicians have muddied the waters leading to large areas, which once had abundant water supply, now reeling under water shortage.


Appallingly in the last twenty years alone over 346,538 farmers committed suicide, an average of 16,500 casualties annually or 45 deaths every day according to the National Crime Records Bureau. However, agricultural experts aver the actual number of suicides is treble of this. In Punjab, the country’s food bowl in 11 districts till three years ago almost 6,926 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide.


Further, the farm sector is crippled by high indebtedness.  While the all-India aggregate rests at 51.9%, Andhra Pradesh has the highest share of indebted agricultural households 92.9% followed by Southern brethrens Telengana 89.1, Tamil Nadu 82.5, Kerala and Karnataka at 77.7% and 77.3%. Shockingly, Rajasthan is next with 61.8% and Punjab at 53.2%.   


Worse, despite the country boasting of great ancient rivers and plentiful waters, throats remain parched till death finally ends the agony. Think. Year after year hunger devours Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Orissa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and UP. This year’s “aridity map” shows “severe arid conditions”.


Questionably, why must we always depend upon rain for food production? Especially when 4,000 billion cubic meters of rain --- 75 per cent of the total rain --- falls during the 70 to 90 days of monsoon? Only 1000 billion cubic meteres fall during the remaining nine months. Moreover, the rainfall varies from a low of 0.50 to 55 mm and a high of 12,000-13,000 mm.


Also, when we know that our land and water resources are stretched beyond limits due to our burgeoning population. India’s landmass of 329 million hectares accounts for only 2 per cent of the globe’s land area, while its population accounts for 16 per cent. Thus, our ancient land’s carrying capacity has been exhausted.


One of the reasons for the failure of the Government to provide any permanent solution to the problem of recurring drought is our polity’s miniscule emphasis on national priorities, refusal to take into account local realities and failure to set our agriculture agenda. Whereby, the money spent, though astronomical, has always been on the “dig and fill-up” variety type with no attempt to link grants to permanent assets creation which could take care of people during distress.


Alarmingly, there is no effective coordination between various rural development programmes. The Agriculture and Water Resources Ministries work in opposite direction. Each Minister and his babus guard their fiefdom with zealousness. Let alone coordination, even silly information is shrouded in secrecy.


Equally scandalous every Government since Independence continues to depend helplessly on the weatherman’s predictions, which have almost invariably gone wrong. All are aware that the world is under the grip of the El Nino affect. Global warming has reached worrisome heights where even the glaciers of Antarctica are melting rapidly.


What next? There are no short-cuts possible. It is high time no-nonsense Modi ensures his Administration lives up to expectations. Netas have to shed their desire to pander to vote banks and reluctance to focus on long-term rather than short-term planning, resulting in the annual scourge of drought in one part of the country or another.


Thus, in this callous kaam chalao and aachaa, woh mar gaya kya milieu if we continue like this the sewage of the present will completely drain India’s future.  What gives? ----- INFA


(Copyright, India News and  Feature Alliance)

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