New Delhi: The Union government’s intent to find a quick fix to the vexing subject of farmers’ suicides is less likely to be fulfilled because the expert panel appointed to go into the matter is yet to submit its findings.
Three months after the deadline for submitting a report expired, the expert group on agricultural indebtedness maintains that the issues are far more complex than initially envisioned, and hence wants another three months to do a detailed review.
The group was set up by the government in August last year, at the behest of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in the background of rising cases of suicides by farmers. It was given three months to submit its findings, which would then have been incorporated to a national strategy. The panel was supposed to submit its report on 30 November 2006.
R. Radhakrishna, director of the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), and head of the committee, told Mint that the long-term policy on farmers’ indebtedness that the government wants to frame cannot be put together in a hurry.
An IGIDR report that serves as background for the group’s main study on indebtedness has already pointed out that “farm incomes are inadequate”, and that “farmers are not in a position to address the multitude of risks” they face.
This report, titled ‘Agrarian scenario in post-reform India: a story of distress, despair and death’, points out that 40% of farmers in the country find their occupation unsustainable. Even “normal” social responsibilities such as education, health care and marriage “add to the burden of farmers” to such an extent that they resort to the “extreme response” of suicide, it says.
However, follow-up reviews after the background study was submitted are still going on, and therefore the government may not be in a position to make a strategy statement till after the Budget session of Parliament ends in May.
“This is a complicated task; it cannot be done quickly. We are seeking inputs from all state governments, which takes time. We are not at recommendation stage yet, we will submit our report in May 2007,” Radhakrishna told Mint.
While the delay may leave government open to allegations that nothing is being done about the suicides, the group has no doubts why it is taking time. It also has P.V. Shenoy, former agriculture secretary Y.S.P. Thorat, managing director, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, and Kanta Kumar, former chairman and managing director of the Syndicate Bank, on board.
“Since the government is seeking solutions that are tailor-made to regional and crop-type diversities,” a member of the panel said, “the process is going to take time.” The group is at present conducting interviews of farmers across the country and analyzing the response of state governments to this problem.
Even if the panel does submit its final report soon, and the findings are similar to the startling claims made in the background report, then the conclusions may not be politically palatable.
The background report had found that the surge in farmers’ suicides was symptomatic of a larger agrarian crisis and was spreading. It therefore recommended a wide range of relief measures to address all possible risks farmers face, but cautioned against a panacea to address low incomes through interventions in the credit market.
“Without adequate safeguards, the farmer will require more and more credit that will lead him to a quagmire of indebtedness...” says this study. Even new employment opportunities only “might” provide some succour, while greater transparency and public monitoring of employment-guarantee schemes are needed.
“The entire issue has to be studied in depth and a comprehensive solution has to be worked out with all dimensions of farmers’ debt taken into account,” Kanta Kumar told Mint.