Is the Tamil Nadu government doing enough for drought-hit farmers?

Earlier this week, Tamil Nadu chief minister O. Panneerselvam declared all the 32 districts of the state as drought-hit and said the Centre's aid would be sought

Dharani Thangavelu, Rahul Chandran
First Published13 Jan 2017
In Tamil Nadu, indebtedness has become the main reason for increase in farmer suicides and deaths. Photo: HT
In Tamil Nadu, indebtedness has become the main reason for increase in farmer suicides and deaths. Photo: HT

Chennai/Nagapattinam: As farmers in the state of Tamil Nadu stare at their withered crops, the benefits announced by the Tamil Nadu government on Tuesday haven’t offered much solace.

Earlier this week, Tamil Nadu chief minister O. Panneerselvam declared all the 32 districts of the state as drought-hit and said the Centre’s aid would be sought in tackling the crisis.

The chief minister said that the crop loans taken by the farmers from cooperative banks and commercial banks will be treated as medium-term loans. This means the repayment period will be increased to more than one year.

But will these measures help?

“Increasing the repayment period will not help us in anyway. We will be benefited only if the crop loans are completely waived,” said S. Arul, a farmer from the Tiruvarur district.

“This announcement is not a solution either to the crop failure or to the debt problem, it is just a consolation,” said Arupathy Kalyanam, general secretary of the Federation of Farmers Association of Cauvery Delta.

Indebtedness has become the main reason for increase in farmer suicides and deaths.

Perumal, who had sown paddy on two acres of land in Nagapattinam, collapsed and died--from grief and worry--neighbours say--earlier this month.

A friend and neighbour, Jaya Bhaskar, said: “He (Perumal) was unable to repay the Rs7,000 loan he had borrowed for agriculture. He also borrowed some money to run his family. Over the months he was deeply disturbed and was worried about repaying the loans. He would constantly say that he had lost everything pointing at his wilting crops.”

“I don’t understand the logic in converting crop loan to a medium-term crop loan. Currently there is no yield and it will take more than a year to overcome complete distress (again depending on the next monsoon). Then, how can medium-term loans be repaid,” said S. Rajendran, a professor who specializes in agricultural economics at the Gandhigram University in Dindigul.

“Crop insurance is an ideal idea. But proper awareness regarding crop insurance has not been imparted to farmers,” added Rajendran. Also, the farmers are wary about the procedures that are involved in crop insurance schemes.

Recalling an earlier government order on damage to crops, the chief minister said in a statement on Tuesday that paddy farmers who have suffered over 33% crop loss will be provided Rs. 5,465 per acre as relief, long term crops will receive Rs7,287 per acre and fields with other crops will get Rs. 3,000 per acre

Long-term crops will receive Rs7,287 per acre and fields with other crops will get Rs3,000 per acre as relief, he added.

The state government will be contributing 410 crore to crop insurance premium. “Paddy farmers suffering a 100% loss were eligible for 1,500-26,000 per acre as crop insurance, while in the Cauvery delta districts the sum was 5,000,” added the chief minister.

“Some people take land on lease. They are the ones who die. (Or the people) that take private loans,” said said a farmer from Nagapattinam. He said the problem was not loans from banks or co-cooperative societies, but rather loan from money lenders that creates the real trouble.

Co-operative societies lend only to a small percentage of the total population, maybe 10 in a 100 people, he said. And they cannot go to the government banks either. So, they end up going to the moneylender and things get tough when the rains fail and there is no water.

This year, cooperative banks have lent loans to the tune of Rs3,028 crore and all of them would be converted into medium-term loans, said chief minister Panneerselvam in his statement.

S. Dhanapalan, president, Cauvery Vivasayigal Padhukkapu Sangam, said that the commercial banks and co-operative societies together contribute to less than a third of the total lending in the Cauvery delta region.

Dhanapalan himself is a pawn broker in Nagapattinam and his family owns nearly 80 acres on which usually paddy is cultivated. However, this year, he had to leave the land fallow because he didn’t have water.

Perumal is not the only one to have succumbed to the accumulating stress.

The Tamil Nadu government has said that 17 farmers have committed suicide and are “waiting for reports on the other deaths”. Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which had sent out a notice to the state government has mentioned media reports and stated that 106 farmers have either committed suicide or died due to shock.

The NHRC also added: “… farmers are feeling neglected by policymakers despite being the most crucial and significant section of the society.”

“This farmer distress was earlier confined only to the Delta region. Now the impact is felt even in Tirunelveli, where the farmers say they witnessed a similar problem about 70 years ago,” said Rajendran.

“The distress is not an unanticipated phenomenon. The situation has been growing in magnitude, the stress has accumulated over the years in a cumulative manner and successive governments have done nothing,” said an agricultural scholar from Tamil Nadu who doesn’t want to be named.

Referring to a recent remark by Tamil Nadu industries minister M.C. Sampath that all farmer deaths could not be attributed to drought, the farmer from Nagapattinam.

“They are demeaning death, dishonouring agriculture.”

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