- Over 130 farmer suicides in last 2 months in Telangana: Report
- Government says it will check on deaths despite record rain
- Drought ends, but rain came too late. Debts pile up, so do deaths
Record rain in September delivered windfall endowments to large dams, where, when the monsoon peaked, delighted locals took selfies posing against the gushing water.
But the celebrations were premature. 134 farmers killed themselves in August and September, according to an umbrella organisation of farmers’ bodies. That’s nearly two deaths per day. The government says it will investigate whether this is correct. If it is, the reported farmer suicide deaths in India’s youngest state will have crossed 2,500 in two years and four months.
The Medak district, a two-hour drive from the IT hub of Hyderabad, is the constituency of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. A series of small farms resonate with the same grim complaint: the government had advised farmers to switch from growing maize to cotton this year because the prices of cotton were certain to crash on account of an over-supply. The Chief Minister propagated this theory too. But maize cannot withstand delayed rain, while cotton is much more hardy. When it did not rain at all in August, the crop was lost.
In April, 32-year-old Kodishala Raju sold the one acre of land he had inherited in a desperate attempt to pay off debtors who were getting increasingly aggressive. It proved to be a futile exercise. He had borrowed four lakhs. The sale of the farm did not cover even the interest he owed. He also needed another loan for the kharif or monsoon crop. He tried to configure solutions. He grew maize on land that he leased. When that too dried up, he drank pesticide.
His wife, Geeta, says she has received neither compensation nor assistance from the government. She supports her two young sons by rolling beedis.
“I got no help from the government or anyone. I have two small children. What should I do?” she asked, breaking down while rolling beedis on her doorstep.
Raju’s brother Venkatesam, also a farmer, has switched professions. He now sells tea. Since July, his two daughters have not attended school. He was not able to pay the Rs 8,000 fee. “I grew maize and the entire crop was lost. If only the rains had come a month earlier, we would have survived,” he told NDTV.
Senior minister Talasani Srinivas Yadav told NDTV, “There have been six seasons of drought. We are already proving nine hours of free power and now, we have a lot of water. So things will get better for farmers.”
Farmers say that the rain is just one contributing factor to their distress. They claim the compensation the government had promised for the loss of earlier crops to drought never arrived. Neither did subsidies. Insurance companies sent agents who decided last year’s crop had not been lost. It added up to all sorts of hopeless.
M Kodandaram leads an association of different farmer bodies called the Telangana Rythu Joint Action Committee. He says that in April, the centre committed 700 crores to help Telangana farmers, but the money was not distributed.
New loans were sanctioned to farmers only in the middle of August- too late to help with the monsoon crop. By then, farmers were staggering under the weight of loans taken at whopping interest rates from private money-lenders.
“A new government policy with revised guidelines for helping farmers in drought must be formed,” he told NDTV.