Friday, April 4, 2008

86922 farmer suicides in 2001-05: UN- The Statesman,

86922 farmer suicides in 2001-05: UN- The Statesman, India

The farmer’s debt trap to death

Can’t escape Escap

The report of the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (Escap) is critical not merely because of a piece of statistic ~ 86,922 suicides by farmers during 2001-05. It has been able to establish the link between farm debt and the overwhelming crisis in agriculture. The national government may have been complimented for trying to address the issue by announcing a loan-waiver; yet the subtext of the Escap report reinforces the dangerous deficiencies of the system of fiscal support to the farmer. And the issues raised have never been addressed by the government.

If the interest rates for home and car loans is lower than those for farmers, there can be little doubt over which category the Centre caters to. The report has highlighted the fact that banks and micro-finance institutions charge between 18 and 24 per cent on farm loans. Indeed, there is a lesson to be drawn from the experience of Bangladesh; for all the gift-wrapping of micro finance, the country remains mired in poverty. The indebtedness of farmers is particularly high in the agriculturally developed states where the sources of debt make a difference. Institutional credit is the major factor in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha belt where suicides by cotton-growers has assumed endemic proportions. At another remove, two-fifths of the debt across the country is owed to non-institutional agencies, specifically the money-lenders and mahajans.

As in other spheres of social welfare, Escap has offered more data than any government survey would have established. It will serve to fill the gaps in the periodic studies conducted by Yojana Bhavan. Escap has established what the home-grown planners have never had the nerve to try. And the data is irrefutable. Overwhelming are the ramifications of the crisis. The Rs 60,000-crore loan-waiver is at best a quick-fix solution intended primarily to yield dividend at the hustings. For the agricultural sector, however, it might mitigate the distress only very partially.


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