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Posted at: Jun 18, 2017, 2:08 AM; last updated: Jun 18, 2017, 2:08 AM (IST)

Beyond govt figures lies neglect and lack of strategy

Sarbjit Dhaliwal in Chandigarh
Beyond govt figures lies neglect and lack of strategy
Farmers protest in Amritsar. A file photo
FOR years, Punjab basked in the glory of the green revolution that freed the country from food crisis. That glory has given way to tragedy with the rising graph of suicides in the farm sector due largely to fiscal distress. The state government has put its three main universities -- Punjabi University, Patiala, PAU, Ludhiana and GND University, Amritsar -- on the job of not only counting the dead in the farm sector but also suggest remedial measures. Sadly, for politicians the crisis is just that: something to do politics with. 

In the last few days, the Punjab Assembly has been unable to do any worthwhile business as opposition is pressuring the ruling Congress deliver on the farm debt waiver. Before the Assembly elections, the Congress had promised to waive farmer loans. 

The first survey conducted by the three universities from 2000 to 2010 some years ago had tabulated figure of 6,926 suicides in the farm sector due to economic distress or debt burden. Of these 3,954 related to farmers and the rest to landless labourers. The highest number of suicides was recorded in Sangrur followed by Mansa, Bathinda and other adjoining districts. 

Punjabi University, Patiala, was assigned seven districts -- Muktsar, Patiala, Faridkot, Fatehgarh Sahib, Hoshiarpur, SAS Nagar and Ropar. The university, supposed to update the suicide data, has submitted its report to the state government. The report says that since year 2000 to end-2016, as many as 1,674 farmers and farm labourers have committed suicide. 

The GND University has not submitted its report on the seven districts -- Fazilka, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Pathankot and Kapurthala - assigned to it. The PAU has submitted the report but it has not been made public. The PAU was allotted Sangrur, Mansa, Bathinda, Barnala, Moga, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Nawanshahar districts.

Like other states such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Telangana, the incidence of suicide cases in the farm sector is substantially high in the cotton belt of Punjab compared to other parts where traditional crops are grown. If one is go region-wise, Malwa is most affected compared to Majha and Doaba regions.

“The crisis in the farm sector has deepened so much that it is very difficult to overcome it,” says Dr Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, who heads a GND University team. He says whereas farmers buy all inputs such as seed, fertilizers, pesticides etc from the retail market, which sells them at the maximum price, they sell their own produce in the wholesale market where they get minimal price. After buying farm produce from them, wholesalers sell the same produce at a maximum profit in the retail market, he says.

Agreeing with former chairman of the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices, Dr Dhillon says that expenditure on treatment of various ailments and education is proving too burdensome for farmers. Failure of the government school system and civil hospitals was responsible for it.

A latest study by Dr Gian Singh, Anupama Uppal and Gurinder Kaur on indebtedness in the farm sector reveals that most marginal, small farmers and farm labourers continue to borrow from the non-institutional sources. Indebtedness and suicides are rampant in south-west Punjab. This is in spite of the vast network of banks. Expenditure on farm inputs is a major reason for a famer to borrow. 

Dr Gian Singh says that in south-west Punjab, the debt per operated acre is Rs 80,769.91, in central plains, is Rs 56,713.44 and in Shivalik foothills, Rs 48,955.11. The growing gap between income and consumption is hitting hard the small, marginal, semi-medium and large farmers, he says.

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