THE land of fabulous farmers, that crucible of Green Revolution, has witnessed a spate of agrarian suicides. Studies commissioned by the Punjab government indicate that 16,606 cases of suicide by farmers and agricultural labourers took place between 2000 and 2015. It is an irony for a state described as the food bowl of the country. Not surprising, therefore, that the Punjab and Haryana High Court has decided to look into the issue and examine a study carried out by three universities in the state, setting a deadline of two weeks for the study to be placed on record.
With agriculture becoming increasingly mechanised and scientific, the need for capital is felt acutely. Rise in the cost of chemicals, seeds, equipment and labour, all add to the financial burden of a farmer. And it is the small and marginal farmers who bear the brunt of it the most. A crop failure, drought or glut entails indebtedness as they are unable to pay back loans or provide for their family’s subsistence, landing them in the vicious vortex of poverty. In the case of farm labourers, they have the choice to move out to other sectors but it is the small farmer who has to face the problem of falling incomes and rising debt. The government does try to come out with measures like the crop insurance scheme, electronic marketing of farm produce and even loan waivers, but they have failed to suffice. The government informed the High Court that a scheme for financial aid of Rs 3 lakh to the kin of farmers committing suicide was already in place and sought additional time to come up with a policy on the pattern of the Andhra Pradesh model that also provides for free education to their children and a house under social welfare schemes.
Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, came out with a programme for psychological first aid under its Project Utsah. It aims at training the farmers in financial literacy, teaching them the importance of savings, staying away from a lavish lifestyle and imbibing emotional resilience. The High Court action, therefore, underscores the seriousness of the problem.