By L.S. Herdenia
BHOPAL: The spate of farmer suicides in Madhya Pradesh continues unabated. Three more farmers, who were being pressurised by banks and moneylenders to repay their loans, committed suicide in the last two days, taking the number of suicides by peasants in the last 28 days to 45.
A debt-ridden farmer killed himself by jumping in front of a train in Sagar district on July 9. Tekram Kurmi, 48, was the owner of six acres of land in Pipariya village. Tekram owed money to the bank and moneylenders; besides his crop was also ruined, his family said.
RN Tiwari, the officer in-charge of Garhakota police station, confirming the suicide, said the reason behind the tragedy was not yet known. Similarly, Jhalkan Singh, 33, consumed insecticide on Saturday in Vidisha. The farmer, who owned 11 acres of land, was upset after his crop got destroyed and also over his failure to pay back debt. Shakuntala Bamnia, officer in-charge of Kurwai police station, said he had met Jhalkan’s wife Rani but she did not talk about any debt. It is suspected that Jhalkan committed suicide as his wife often remained sick. Another farmer Maniram, 45, consumed insecticide on Friday in Ghusgawan village in Morena district. He died during treatment.
Maniram’s family said he was upset as he had Rs four lakh debt and had failed to pay Rs 50,000 electricity bill. SDM (Revenue) Pradeep Tomar said the reason behind the suicide was not yet known.
Meanwhile, two important developments took place vis-a-vis the farmers. First is the intervention by the State Human Rights Commission, which has asked the state government to give detailed information about the series of suicides by farmers. But despite several reminders, the state government has not submitted its report. MPHRC has issued five notices in different incidents of farmers’ death and suicides in MP in past one month. But it has not received reply of a single notice, so far. .
Taking cognizance of the police firing resulting in death of five farmers in Mandsaur district on June 6, the MPHRC had issued notice to the government and sought a report. The commission constituted a two-member bench for hearing on the issue and sought replies by June 23 from chief secretary, DGP, district collector and SP Mandsaur. But the response was not received by due date. Left with no option, the MPHRC issued reminder to officials concerned, so that it can decide its future course of action.
In another important development, chief minister Shivraj Singh held consultations with farmers about their problems, including the causes of suicide and sought their suggestions for their solution.
Four farmers from each district were invited for the meet with the objective of securing first-hand information on agriculture-related problems from them.
In their interaction, the farmers vented their anger against the government. They said poor quality insecticides were being supplied to them. They said what was available for Rs 500 in the market was being sold for Rs 700 by the agriculture department. Some farmers said the seeds being supplied to them were of low quality.
They said they had to run from pillar to post for obtaining copies of khasra and have to face innumerable problems while dealing with the Revenue Department. They also raised the issue of inadequate power supply. Their complaints regarding faulty or non-working transformers were not redressed for days together, they said.
After hearing the farmers’ woes Chouhan said the opposition was pressing for loan waiver. He asked the farmers to choose between remunerative prices for their produce and waiver of farm loans. Chouhan said that from next year onwards, the government would seriously work on ensuring that farmers got remunerative prices for their produce.
He said the difference between the market price of pulses and the appropriate price decided by the government would be credited to the accounts of the farmers. This would not be possible vis-a-vis vegetables but would be done in case of pulses.
He said for quick disposal of revenue matters, the government would ensure that the disposal of demarcation cases is expedited. He said copies of ‘khasras’ (extracts from the land ownership details maintained by patwaris) would be distributed from door-to-door. Instead of temporary, permanent power connections would be provided to the farmers. On the issue of poor quality insecticides, he said companies selling such products would be banned.
Chouhan said farmers were and would remain the priority of his government. He said the government had done a lot for them and would continue to work for their welfare. He promised them that solutions to problems raised by them would be worked out.
Meanwhile, opposition parties and some peasants’ organisation continue to resort to agitation. But the government is not prepared to take any risk and is using the police to put them down.
Activists Medha Patkar and Paras Saklecha and Swaraj Abhiyan chief Yogendra Yadav were among 300 people arrested as police swooped down to block a farmers rally planned on Thursday to mark the 30th-day after the deaths of five persons in police firing in Mandsaur.
The All Indian Kisan Samanvayan Samiti, which claims support of 160 farmer organisations, had announced the 12-day Kisan Mukti Yatra from Mandsaur to Jantar Mantar in New Delhi to protest against the deaths of farmers in the June 6 police firing and demand loan waiver and better price for crops. Preparations for the march started early on Wednesday. As people gathered, police made some preventive arrests, including that of former MLA Sunilam, who led the Multai farmer agitation in 1998. Unfazed, protesters gathered in large numbers on Thursday and moved from Budha village to Pipliamandi – the town where the firing took place – where a strong police force was deployed to prevent any flare-up.
The leaders were arrested amid sloganeering against the Centre and state governments for “ignoring farmers’ plight”. The protesters demanded loan waiver and fixing of maximum support price on the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Committee.
They sought permission to hold a protest at Pipliamandi, but the demand was rejected by the collector since it is a sensitive area as of now. “We were ready to allow them to hold the protest elsewhere. But they insisted on Pipliamandi”, he said.
The march was scheduled to end in New Delhi on July 18 after passing through Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan and UP. A parallel protest was held by Congress in Malhargarh, about 30 km north of Mandsaur, where state party president Arun Yadav demanded registration of cases against the policemen who fired on farmers on June 6.
BJP is also trying to interact with farmers. But wherever the party leaders go they face hostile response. For example a BJP MLA, who led party’s Kisan Sandesh Yatra in Chhattarpur district, had to face the wrath of farmers, who reportedly booed him and shouted slogans against him. On July 5, when Bijawar MLA Pushpendra Pathak led the yatra at Bharatpura village in Chattarpur district, farmers protested against him. Reports of hostile response to BJP leaders’ efforts to woo farmers are being received from others parts of the state also.
Amid all this, Shivkumar Sharma alias Kakka Ji, national president of Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, blamed both (BJP and Congress) for “playing politics with farmers.”