Rural Distress, Farmer Suicides, Drought Measures

High rate of farmer suicides in Punjab’s Malwa

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Malwa region (in MP and Punjab)

Mains level : Farmers suicides prone regions

Context

  • Over the past few years, ‘farm debt’ has been one of the main reasons behind farmers and farm labourers committing suicide in Punjab.
  • Data has indicated that 97% of farmer suicides are taking place in the Malwa region only.

More suicides in Malwa region

  • According to report farmer suicides due to debt drastically increased in the late 1990s.
  • The maximum such suicides are taking place in the Malwa region (97.45 per cent), which falls south of the Sutlej, and has 14 of the state’s 22 districts.
  • Malwa has a majority of ‘small and marginal’ farmers’, who have 1-5 acres land.

Reasons for suicide

  • Of around 97 per cent suicides that has taken place in the Malwa region — 94 per cent were due to ‘farm debt’.
  • Majority of them are small and marginal farmers having 1-5 acres of land.

Total number of such suicides

  • The Punjab government’s data states that 3,330 farmers have taken their lives due to farm debt since 2000 till date, of which 698 committed suicide in the past four years, most of them in the Malwa region.
  • It also states that 97 farm labourers committed suicide since 2016, before which no records were maintained of the same.

Why Malwa region?

  • Exorbitant lease land rentals is one of the factors behind the high rate of farmer suicide in Malwa.
  • Farmers cannot get alternative employment opportunities in Malwa, hence small and marginal farmers fall in the trap of debt.
  • If the crop turns out bad, it only adds to their mounting debt.
  • In the Malwa region, a large number of farmers have to spend a chunk of their earnings on health issues including cancer, which is quite common here.
  • There is even a train that carries mostly cancer patients from here to a hospital in Rajasthan.
  • Several reasons have been attributed to high number of cancer patients here, including highly contaminated groundwater.

Why are lease land rentals high?

  • In Malwa, the number of ‘landless’ and ‘marginal farmers’ is very high against the availability of farmland.
  • Cultivation of land is the only way available to them to earn their living.
  • For taking land on rent, they are dependent on big land lords and ‘sahukaars’ who have also become owners of agricultural lands of most small and marginal farmers, who could not pay their debts.
  • Poor farmers think that even if their entire earnings go in paying rent, they will at least get grain for a whole year for their families.
  • On the other hand, in Doaba, which is the NRI belt, and Majha, a large number of farming households either have one member abroad or in government jobs or armed forces from where they get an assured regular income.
  • Even small farmers are running subsidiary occupations like dairy. Also, they prefer to plant three crops in a year including wheat, paddy and vegetables.
  • In the Doaba, large farm lands of NRIs are available to fellow farmers for cultivation due to which lease rentals are 20-30 per cent down here.

Solutions

The report suggests following measures to relieve farmers in the region:

  • streamlining of ‘land lease rentals’,
  • waiving farm loans at least once,
  • providing compensation to the tune of Rs 10 lakh to each family that loses a farmer or farm labourer to suicide,
  • continuation of free power, crop diversification, insurance for crops and health of farmers and labourers, development of dairy sector etc.
  • profitable employment for one family member of farmers and labourers, rold-age pension to farmers and labourers,
  • streamlining of banking sector and curtailing unscrupulous activities of micro-finance agencies and moneylenders etc.
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