New Delhi: More than 100 farmers from a drought-hit district of Maharashtra asked the state government for permission to commit suicide, but decided not to take the extreme step after officials counselled them against it, the government has told Parliament.

One hundred and nine farmers from Wardha district of Maharashtra—among of the worst affected by two consecutive years of drought—sought “suicide clearance" from district authorities.

The extraordinary fact emerged in a reply by Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh in the Rajya Sabha on 26 February.

Singh added that these “applications" were due to crop failure and not because of anger towards the government.

“The state government has reported that these applications are due to low yield of Kharif crops, and not due to failure of government to redress their grievance and provide adequate compensation to crops," he said.

The reply—put up on the Rajya Sabha website—shows that 102 farmers demanded debt relief as their monsoon dependent Kharif crop had failed, but a team led by the local revenue officer visited the village and “counselled them."

Another six farmers who asked for “suicide clearance" demanded financial assistance for losses to their Kharif crops in 2014.

They were given a total assistance of 28,350, or 4,725 per farmer, according to the reply.

Farm minister Singh further said that the state government is providing medicines and counselling for farmers who are “psychologically depressed" and chronically ill, through a project called Prerna implemented by the state health department.

The minister said that the centre had provided nearly 3,050 crore in drought assistance to Maharashtra, one of the 10 states which notified a drought last year.

Singh also listed a dozen central schemes on soil health, organic farming, fertilisers, irrigation and insurance that he said are helping farmers raise yields and get better prices for their crops.

In 2005 severely indebted farmers in Dorli village in Wardha announced plans to sell their kidneys to repay debt, said farmer leader Vijay Jawandhia from Shetkari Sanghatana, adding, “At present most central and state schemes have failed to control the acute distress on ground. Only a handful of farmers have received compensation for repeated crop loss and farmers are unable to repay their loans."

That the 12 schemes listed by Singh did not help much is clear from his reply to another Rajya Sabha question—Radha Mohan Singh told Parliament on 4 March that 3,228 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra in 2015, the highest in 15 years.

Of these, 1,841 farmers killed themselves because of farm distress and were eligible for a 1 lakh compensation each, according to the reply.

It added that 903 cases of suicides were “ineligible" for compensation and enquiry is pending in 484 cases.

Replying to another query on farm suicides, the agriculture ministry told Parliament on 4 March that as reported by states 2,806 farmers committed suicide due to “agrarian reasons."

Maharashtra recorded the highest number of suicides (1,841), followed by Punjab (449), Telangana (342), Karnataka (107) and Andhra Pradesh (58).

Going by this statement, several states such as Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh did not record a single case of death due to farm distress, even though such deaths were widely reported by the press.

In 2015—the second straight deficit monsoon year in India—the 10 states that declared drought sought 41,722 crore in financial assistance from the centre.

The centre has approved 12,773 so far, the agriculture ministry informed Parliament on 4 March.

The Union budget presented last week increased funds for insurance and irrigation schemes in a bid to check farm distress.

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