A study by a fact finding team S. Kannayan, coordinator of South Indian coordination committee of farmers movements and Jayaram Venkatesan, an independent freelance researcher have concluded that there are distress and farmer suicides happening in delta districts following the monsoon failure and the inability to save the crop. Based on a visit and discussion with the surviving members of 7 farmers in Thiruvarur and Nagai districts, the team has made the following observations:
1. There are farmer suicides happening in the delta districts and very clearly distress in agriculture is a major/ important reason for all suicides. 4 out of the 7 farmers visited had committed suicide and an important reason behind all these suicides were lack of enough water and their fear of inability to save the standing crop. It seems that farmers who had committed suicide thought that they have run out of all options and lost hope to lead a life with dignity.
2. Two farmers had a heart attack and not suicide as claimed by some media sources. However, their families have cited that they were in a state of distress due to non availability of water and failing crop before their heart attack. One died of an accident but his loss has put his family in deep agriculture debt.
3. For farmers who committed suicides such as Raajangam and Selvaraj, it was a double loss. Initially their direct paddy sowing got destroyed due to heavy rains and Cyclone Nilam and then the second crop again failed due to non availability of water. Hence their expenses were more than usual but they haven’t been compensated for either.
4. 3 of the 7 farmers (Raajangam, Sridhar and Sakthivel) who died were under 35 years of age.
5. All the farmers who have died were small, marginal and landless farmers and required the most support. 2 out of these 7 farmers have leased land/ cultivated on share cropping apart from own land and another 2 of the 7 do not own any land but only does share cropping. Also 4 out of the 7 were Dalit farmers.
6. In most of the places we visited, portable oil engines were in heavy demand and hence hiring and diesel cost for oil engine costed Rs 200 per hour. The farmers have to spend around 8 hours to irrigate one acre of land for one time. This means a cost of anywhere between Rs 1500 to Rs 2000 for rent and diesel to irrigate one acre of land once. Atleast 2 of the above farmers who committed suicide, Raajangam and Abdul Rahim were upset that they couldn’t afford to use oil engines to pump out water.
7. Even after doing agriculture for years and in some cases decades, these farmers did not have any savings to raise their crop without taking loans. Atleast 6 of the 7 farmers have borrowed from others to raise their crop.
8. 6 out of these 7 farmers have borrowed money from private money lenders at an interest rate of anywhere between 24 % to 60% per annum.
9. The Government of Tamil Nadu has set up a high level committee under the head of the Finance Minister. The committee assessed the crop loss aspects and met farmers and their representatives in the delta region which was welcomed by most farmers in the region that the study team spoke to. However, they did not visit the families of farmers who died and so some of these families were disappointed and sad that neither the committee / other Government representatives visited them even after 1 to 2 months of the farmer’s demise.
10. Apart from the Government, the other local associations and media also did not report the deaths in an unbiased/impartial manner. However, they also played an active role in bringing this issue to the forefront.
11. The opposition parties DMK and DMDK have offered relief to some of the families.
12. All the families we spoke to told us that they are looking up to the Chief Minister and State Government for providing them with suitable relief.
Based on their observations, the fact finding team has made the following recommendations:
1. The state government seems to be in denial that such deaths are happening due to agriculture issues. We sincerely appeal to the state government to accept and understand that some of these farmers have taken the extreme step due to farm related issues and formulate suitable relief and rehabilitation measures.
2. The government should set up a process immediately to identify all such cases of suicide in the state due to agriculture as well as other deaths related to agriculture.
3. All the families we visited definitely require a lot of support to rebuild their lives. The farmers who have committed suicide did so as they thought that it was impossible to settle their loans and lead a life with dignity. But unfortunately, their suicides have now shifted the entire burden to their wife, brothers, sisters and children who are younger and in most cases less skilled. Hence we kindly request the state government to provide the families of all farmers who have committed suicide in Tamil Nadu due to agriculture issues with a suitable relief and rehabilitation package. Apart from this, the government should also seriously consider ways of support to sustain their family in the long run.
4. Apart from suicides, the government should also take into consideration other kinds of death that have been happening in the farming families due to agriculture issues and also provide them with a suitable relief package. Both the farmers Idumpayyan and Samiappan were worried about the failing crop before they had heart attacks. Government should compensate all such families suitably.
5. The media and other organizations must also refrain from misquoting nature of deaths and should talk and enquire with the family members directly before putting up such news. This will help all of us in raising such issues with more credibility and could help solve such issues faster
6. The fact that most of them had to borrow inorder to cultivate crop from moneylenders at high rate of interest tells us about the deeper crisis in agriculture where one cannot even put in his own savings after doing agriculture for many years. Also, none of them had accessed a bank loan for agriculture. The Government has to look at the deeper symptoms and take up more sustained initiatives that would benefit small, marginal and tenancy farmers directly.
7. Owning land should not be considered a criterion for benefits rendered to a farmer including cooperative society loans for crop cultivation. Anyone who cultivates should be eligible for all benefits. In many cases, even farmers who own land did not have the land registered in their name. Tenancy farmers should be treated on par with land owning farmers for any benefits given. All the tenancy farmers should also be given farmer card.
8. The state should also look at devising and providing better crop insurance policies that calculates crop losses at individual farmer level/ atleast village level in case of damages due to drought, winds and floods as none of the farmers whose crops got affected by Cyclone Nilam and rains were compensated.
The complete report can be downloaded here.