Agriculture Distress, Govt Apathy, and Huge Debt Burden Forcing Bundelkhand Farmers to End Lives
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Lucknow: Farmer suicides, agricultural distress, and alleged harassment at the hands of moneylenders continues to make headlines in Uttar Pradesh's Bundelkhand region. The drought-prone region has been fighting acute agrarian distress for the past several decades due to government apathy.
In a latest incident, a 50-year-old farmer in Banda district allegedly died by suicide as he was allegedly being harassed by bank officials and a local moneylender from whom he had taken a small loan, according to his family members.
Man Singh, younger brother of deceased Chunnu Singh, said his brother had taken a loan of Rs 1,80,000 from the Central Bank, Mataundh branch, through Kisan Credit Card (KCC) for the marriage of his daughter Kshama. Along with this, there was also a loan of Rs 2,50,000 from moneylender. The farmer's brother alleged that Chunnu had been tense as the moneylender would call several times a week for payments.
Chunnu had cultivated peas and gram over ten bighas of farmland. He was more optimistic about a decent harvest this season and had planned to repay the loan amount. But last month, a major portion of the crop was damaged due to the unseasonal rains. The rest was damaged in blister disease.
“Since that day, Chunnu stopped talking to anyone in the family and locked himself up in his room,” said Man Singh, adding that the humiliation led him to die by suicide. The farmer is survived by three children and his wife.
He ended his life by hanging himself with a rope tied to the animal in his cattle shed, located barely 150 metres away from the house. Panic gripped his family in the morning when they saw his body. His wife Munni Devi went to the cattle shed looking for him, and found her husband's body hanging from the thatch. Neighbours reached the spot after hearing the screams of Chunnu’s wife. After being informed, Bhuragarh police outpost in-charge Rahul Singh reached the spot and Chunnu’s body was taken into custody.
While his body has been sent for post-mortem examination, police said they have started an investigation into his death. His family, however, said that he died by suicide two days after receiving a phone call from a moneylender.
“The man, identified as Chunnu Singh, was found hanging from a tree on Wednesday, hours after he left home to go to his field. We have sent the body for post-mortem examination and based on the report, further action will follow. His family members claim that he took his own life as he was under tremendous pressure to repay his loan,” the SHO said.
In another village nearby, the relatives of another farmer have been mourning as well. Bindoo Prasad Rajpoot, a 60-year-old farmer, had left his house at around four in the morning on February 11 without informing his family members; he later hanged himself from an acacia tree. Both farmers had piled up debts due to the frequent spells of drought.
According to the deceased's family, Bindoo had taken a loan of Rs 1,00,000 under the Kisan Credit Card scheme, because of which the bank manager of Gramin Bank of Aryavart allegedly misbehaved with him and threatened him to repay the loan.
It is a similar story everywhere in the Bundelkhand region. Failing to repay loans, many farmers in the region sold their land and became labourers. Avdhesh, a 55-year-old farmer from Atarra, has 20 bighas of land and had taken a loan of Rs 40,000. “I hardly have anything to repay. There are ten members in my family. I have to feed them. What do I do if I don’t sell my land?” he said.
Stories of farmers dying by suicide or selling their land to repay the loan are now fairly commonplace in the region. When the crop is damaged due to hailstorm or unseasonal, no one from the administration comes to assess the crop damage; this does not help bring down the high suicide rate in the drought-prone region.
Those farmers who fail to repay the loan often embrace death. In the last three decades, about three-and-a-half thousand farmers have ended their lives in Bundelkhand due to crop failure and non-repayment of loans, said Prem Singh, who believes there is hardly any farmer in Bundelkhand who does not have a bank loan. "It’s a disturbing trend that is picking up fast in the villages of Bundelkhand and if concrete steps are not taken by the administration, these UP villages will witness stories similar to the Vidharba tragedy where farmer suicides have become a common affair," he said.
Banks also do not hesitate to give loans to farmers to achieve the target of disbursement of loans. Crop is grown in this area only twice a year while the interest of the loan keeps on increasing day and night. Singh said that the government should give loans to farmers in Bundelkhand without interest, so that they do not have to take extreme steps such as suicide.
OVER 4 LAKH FARMERS UNDER DEBT BURDEN
The seven districts, including Banda, Mahoba, Chitrakoot, Jalaun and Mahoba, in Bundelkhand are drought-ravaged and top the list of farmer suicides in the state because of faulty government policies, pressure from banks, and agriculture fast turning into a loss-making business.
A study estimated that in 2021-22, a total of 4,29,991 peasants belonging to Banda, Chitrakoot, Hamirpur and Mahoba districts of the Chitrakoot division borrowed over Rs 2,841.98 crore under the KCC.
In the previous year (2020-21), a total of 2,16,986 farmers from the four districts borrowed Rs 1,67,915 lakh. These huge loans are just 45% of the banks’ total target.
According to agri watchers, with an aim to meet targets, government-run lenders have issued a high number of loans under KCCs, which have left cash-strapped farmers indebted.
As much as 60% of farmers in the region are unable to repay loans because agriculture has been in crisis and facing nature’s wrath for several decades.
NewsClick travelled to Bundelkhand region during the recent Assembly elections and spoke to dozens of villagers who have claimed that at least 3, 500 farmers have reportedly died by suicide in the past three decades in the region; the common thread being-- a huge burden of bank loans.
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