Skip to main content

Gujarat connection of India's farmers unrest: How an individual helped show, the emperor has no clothes

By RK Misra*
The volcanic eruption of farmers' unrest in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra which also threatens to engulf poll-bound Gujarat had been simmering for long. The Narendra Modi government, however, chose to remain in a state of denial to their miserable plight reflected in the rising tide of farmers suicides,countrywide. That is until a single individual from his home state, Gujarat, decided to take it upon himself to point out that the emperor had no clothes. And with resounding success.
‘Main akela hi chala tha janibe-manzil magar,log sath ate gaye aur karva banta gaya’  (I had started out alone in the quest of my goal but people kept joining in and it became a caravan). The words rang true for a Gujarat farmer whose desperate quest to stem the economic ruin and resultant suicides by scores of farmers countrywide, is now yielding results.
It was milk and honey to his ears when on May 2 the Centre admitted before the Supreme Court that over 12,000 suicides were reported in the agricultural sector every year since 2013. "A total of 12,602 persons involved in farming sector -- 8,007 farmer cultivators and 4,595 agricultural labourers committed suicide during 2015 accounting for 9.4 per cent of total suicide victims (1,33,623) in the country”, the Government of India submitted before a bench comprising Chief Justice J.S.Kehar, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul. 
Maharashtra topped the list with 4,291 suicides, followed by Karnataka with 1,569, Telangana 1,400, Madhya Pradesh 1,290, Chhatisgarh 954.
The government, both at the centre and in the states, have been all along dragging their feet in disclosing the true number of such deaths. It has now been forced to disclose the figures. For all the chest thumping, the change of guard at the Centre with UPA’s Manmohan Singh being replaced by NDA’s Narendra Modi has apparently made no difference. The economic ruin- forced suicides of farmers and farm labourers - has continued unabated under the new rulers as well.
Bharatsinh Jhala, director of NGO Citizens Resource Action and Initiative (CRANTI) had cause to be happy when the Supreme Court expanded the scope of his petition- filed on the plight of the farmers of Gujarat leading to a spate of suicides –to encompass the entire country.
On March 27, the apex court asked the Centre to inform it about the line of action to be taken by the states for dealing with the ‘serious issue’ of farmer s suicide. The Centre had sought two weeks time to enumerate steps it was planning to take, the apex court gave it four.
During the hearing the, Bench said that the government should come out with a policy which deals with root causes of farmers having to resort to such extreme steps.
The Supreme Court’s words were honey to Jhala’s ears though he was at pains to point out that he was a mere cog in a big wheel that had stirred the country’s highest court into taking action. "So many have helped out in this endeavour. Mallika Sarabhai who founded CRANTI, lawyer late Mukul Sinha of Jan Sangharsh Manch who helped the legal fight in Gujarat, Mr Colin Gonsalves who is fighting our case in the Supreme Court, even paid for my travel from Gujarat to Delhi. It is the dedication and selflessness of so many of them that has borne fruit. Every farmer of this country owes them a debt of gratitude”, he said.
During the hearing of the case, the Supreme Court had pointed out that it felt that the government was going in a ‘wrong direction’ in addressing the real issues. Asking the Centre to apprise it of the policy road-map to address the issue it pointed out that paying compensation to the family of the victims ‘post facto’ was not the solution. Addressing issues to redress the genuine causative factors leading to it , definitely was.
CRANTI filed the petition in the Supreme Court on the plight of the farmers in Gujarat in 2013 and the spate of suicides it had led to only after the Gujarat High Court turned down its plea that these were policy matters and the High Court could not issue directions. Basing its contentions on information gleaned through Right to Information Act from the government, CRANTI had contended that over 692 farmers had committed suicide in Gujarat between 2003 and 2012 and had sought a compensation of Rs five lakhs for each of them.
Jhala contended that perusal of the police documents related to the suicides indicated that the farmers did not get crop insurance money and this led to financial deterioration neutralizing their ability to pay back loans leading them to take the extreme step. 
"Let me put it across simply to you ,a farmer spends approx Rs 30,000 on a hectare and if there is a good crop gets back Rs 22,000 on an average per hectare. And this is the reason that from 2.20 crore people dependent on agriculture 20 years ago, the figure is down to 88 lakhs today in Gujarat”, he adds. It was for this reason that CRANTI has sought a direction to the state government to announce a financial package for farmers during drought as well as change in policy for drought affected villages.
The affidavit of the union ministry of agriculture has also admitted that of a total of over one lakh suicides in the country in 2013,farmer suicides were recorded at 8.7 per cent. Referring to the data maintained by the National Crime Records Bureau(NCRB) the number of suicides by persons self-employed in farming/agriculture in 2009 was 17,368 and had come down 11,772 in 2013. It submitted that against the total population of 122 crores(estimated) in 2013,the total number of suicides in the country was 1,34,799 of which those under the category of self-employed (farming/agriculture was 11,772 which comes to 8.73 per cent of the total.
Interestingly during the 2014 general elections, farmers suicide in Gujarat was the subject of a slanging match between then state chief minister Narendra Modi and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal who had said that 5,874 farmers had committed suicide in the last ten years while Modi put the figure at only one farmer who had killed himself due to crop failure. 
The actual figure given to Jhala in response to his RTI plea to the government stands at 692 in Gujarat for the period between 2003 and 2012 when Modi was the chief minister. On March 24, Gujarat agriculture minister Chiman Shapariya said in the Vidhan Sabha in response to a question by Congress legislator Tejshree Patel that 91 farmers had committed suicide across 14 districts of Gujarat due to crop failure and debt burden in the last five years.
Additional Solicitor General PS Narasimha told the apex court that the ‘PM fasal bima yojna’ (Prime Minister’s crop insurance scheme) was the panacea for bulk of the ills plaguing the sector and will provide insurance cover for all stages of the crop cycle including post-harvest risks. The NGO's counsel Colin Gonsalves had argued that the over-hyped ‘yojna’ had not even reached 20 per cent of even the small farmers largely because the Central government had parked huge funds with private insurance companies.
Interestingly, BJP has been in the saddle in three of the five states reporting maximum farmer suicides, Chattisgarh since 2003,Madhya Pradesh since 2005 and Maharashtra since 2014!
---
*Senior journalist based in Gandhinagar. Source: http://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.in

Comments

TRENDING

Gujarat's incomplete canals: Narmada dam filled up, yet benefits 'won't reach' farmers

By Our Representative
Even as the Gujarat government is making all out efforts to fill up the Sardar Sarovar dam on Narmada river up to the full reservoir level (FRL), a senior farmer rights leader has said the huge reservoir, as of today, remains a “mirage for the farmers of Gujarat”.
In a statement, Sagar Rabari of the Khedut Ekta Manch (KEM), has said that though the dam’s reservoir is being filled up, the canal network remains complete. Quoting latest government figures, he says, meanwhile, the command area of the dam has been reduced from 18,45,000 hectares (ha) to 17,92,000 ha.
“According to the website of the Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd, which was last updated on Friday, while the main canal, of 458 km long, has been completed, 144 km of ranch canals out of the proposed length of 2731 km remain incomplete.
Then, as against the targeted 4,569 km distributaries, 4,347 km have been constructed, suggesting work for 222 km is still pending. And of the 15,670 km of minor canal…

Ceramic worker dies: 20,000 workers in Thangadh, Gujarat, 'risk' deadly silicosis

By Our Representative
Even as the country was busy preparing for the Janmashtami festival on Saturday, Hareshbhai, a 46-year-old ceramic worker from suffering from the fatal lung disease silicosis, passed away. He worked in a ceramic unit in Thangadh in Surendranagar district of Gujarat from 2000 to 2016.
Hareshbhai was diagnosed with the disease by the GCS Medical College, Naroda Road, Ahmedabad in 2014. He was found to be suffering from progressive massive fibrosis. He is left behind by his wife Rekha sister and two sons Deepak (18) and Umesh (12),
The death of Hareshbhai, says Jagdish Patel of the health rights group Peoples Training and Research Centre (PTRC), suggests that silicosis, an occupational disease, can be prevented but not cured, and the Factory Act has sufficient provisions to prevent this.
According to Patel, the pottery industry in the industrial town of Thangadh has evolved for a long time and locals as well as migrant workers are employed here. There are abou…

Bullet train impact report Japan agency property: Govt of India tells Gujarat NGO

The National High Speed Rail Corporation Limited (NHSRCL) has told Gujarat-based environmental organization, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS) that the detailed report of Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) representatives on their visit to Gujarat and Maharashtra assess the impact of the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project on farmers is not its property, but that of JICA.

NHSRCL letter to PSS, signed by activists Rohit Prajapati, Krishnakant and Swati Desai, comes following the latter’s request to it on June 10 for the report. PSS was one of the NGOs that represented JICA on the project, saying, if implemented, it would adversely impact farmers, even as pointing towards the fact that the project itself is unviable and Indian Railways needs to invest, instead, more on upgrading the present railway infrastructure.
Following the NHSRCL reply, PSS has shot a second letter to JICA, insisting that the latter should share a copy of the report, even as providing details of the …

Report on "torture" in Kashmir jails: 44% detainees stripped naked, 29% electrocuted

Counterview Desk
A recent report titled “Torture: Indian State’s Instrument of Control in Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir”, published by the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), has claimed to build “on the body of human rights documentation on torture” in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) through an examination of 432 case studies. It seeks to focus on "the trends and patterns, targets, perpetrators, contexts and impact of torture" in the state.

Rescind Gates Foundation award to Modi, demand three Nobel Peace laureates

Counterview Desk
In a major boost to those opposing the award to the Gates Foundation’s proposed to be awarded to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, three Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Mairead Maguire (1976), Tawakkol Abdel-Salam Karman (2011) and Shirin Ebadi (2003), have in an open letter called upon Milinda and Bill Gates to withdraw their decision, stating Modi is allegedly involved in human rights violations.

Karma tribal festival an occasional to campaign for tribal rights: IPMSDL

By Our Representative
The International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL), in a solidarity statement has suggested that the current Karam festival of Central India -- which seeks to promote sisterhood, friendship, cultural unity, and closer link to nature -- should be the occasion to campaign against alleged efforts to violently drive away forest dwelling communities from their forest homes.
"Millions are threatened to lose lands and livelihood under the implementation of Forest Rights Act (FRA) of 2006", the statement States, adding, "As corporate interests continues to enter tribal territories and extract profit from its natural resources, indigenous people are pushed to further marginalization and discrimination."
Asserting that indigenous movement in India "remains steadfast in keeping their culture, deeply linked to their lands alive by carrying out their heritage and struggles", IPMSDL, even as extending "…

Amidst Modi celebrations, thousands protest 'massive' submergence in Narmada Valley

By Our Representative
Thousands of women and men gathered on at the Shaheed Stambh in Badwani, Madhya Pradesh, to raise their voice against what they called "the destruction of the Narmada Valley", protesting against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Gujarat BJP rulers for celebrating the Sardar Sarovar dam being filled up to the full reservoir level (FRL) on September 17, which also happens to be Modi's birthday.
Calling it a black day for the people of the Valley, whose villages and farms got submerged because of highest-ever water level having been achieved in the dam, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), which organised the parallel rally across the border with Gujarat, regretted in a statement that Modi's celebration at the dam took place amidst " martyrdom of the Valley".
The demonstration in Badwani was preceded by a vehicles rally, which took rounds of the city streets. They were joined by people from several villages of Dhar district. They gather…

Kandla Port Trust activities 'destroyed' mangroves, affecting rare camel species: NGT

By Rajiv Shah
Taking serious note of large-scale destruction of mangroves on about 750 acres in Bhachau taluka of Kutch district, the National Green Tribunal (NGT), Delhi, has “directed” the Gujarat government, its forest department, and the Gujarat Coastal Zone Management Authority (GSZMA), to “jointly inspect the area” and fix responsibility as to who is “responsible for obstruction of the creeks” next to the Kandla Port Trust (KPT), leading to the damage to the plantations in the area.

ANHAD brainstorming: Why cops came in private meeting?, Home Ministry asked

By Our Representative
Well-known human rights organisation Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD) has taken strong exception to a special branch officer and a cop reaching its office in Nizamuddin West in Delhi, even as its brainstorming session about to start to "discuss" the possibility of doing grassroots work for spreading ideas of peace and harmony.
While the cop went away after taking photographs, the special branch officer sat through the meeting. Wondered Shabnam Hashmi of ANHAD, "Is talking about peace, communal harmony, bringing communities together, fighting hatred and spreading the vision of an equal and just society a crime in #NewIndia?"
Hashmi said, "There are groups openlygiving weapon training , lynch mobs killing innocent people in the name of cow and child lifting and the special branch is busy doing surveillance of groups, who are trying to bring back some sanity to society?"
"The meeting was in our office, not in a public place…

Narmada valley: SC notice to Gujarat, MP, M'rashtra on submergence sans rehabilitation

By Our Representative
Thr Supreme Court has issued notice to Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra governments following a Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)-backed petition seeking the explanation as to whether large areas of Narmada Valley have gone into submergence by filling up the Sardar Sarovar dam up to the full reservoir level (FRL) without rehabilitating the project affected families (PAFs).