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Burdened by debt

RAMACHANDRA SHIVAPPA Halgali (Banakar) was a 40-year-old ryot from Gangapur village in Ranebennur taluk of Haveri district. He had the responsibility of managing the entire agricultural operations of the family ever since his elder brother died in 2002. He sold three out of eight acres to clear off the mounting loan arrears of Rs. 2.5 lakhs. Left with a loan of Rs. 1 lakh and under pressure to repay the rest, he committed suicide in early August, leaving behind his mother, wife and children.

Not very different was the condition of Shekavva Hiremath of Ganjigatti village of Shiggaon taluk of Haveri district, who owned seven acres of land. He had outstanding bank loans of Rs. 75,000 and had borrowed another Rs. 85,000 from private financiers. The records of his indebtedness were recovered from his body: his land mortgage papers, bank loan documents, and his anguished jottings at the harassment he faced from private financiers. Karasiddappa Mahantayya Hiremath (35) of Itagi village of Ron taluk in Gadag district hanged himself as a way out of his desperate plight. With three continuous years of heavy crop losses, he was in debt to the primary agricultural cooperative society for Rs. 55,000; to a nationalised bank for Rs. 45,000, and to private moneylenders for Rs. 50,000.

Northern Karnataka has been experiencing the phenomenon of suicides by farmers for the last five to six years. This year, significantly, the incidence of suicides has shot up in Haveri district which comes under the assured rainfall belt, and which has hardly experienced scarcity. With 14 reported suicides between April 1 and September 7, the district has had the highest number of suicides in the northern belt. It is followed by Belgaum (13), Bellary (nine), Dharwad (eight), and Bagalkot and Koppal (seven each). Gadag, Bidar, Gulbarga, Raichur, and Bijapur together account for 16 suicides.

Perhaps the most heart-rending case of all was that of Ishwarappa Bhagoji, a 40-year-old farmer from Hadaginahal village in Gokak taluk of Belgaum district. Burdened by debt, he and Sakkaravva, his 30-year-old pregnant wife, committed suicide after poisoning their three daughters, Shantavva, Basavva and Shobha, aged six, three and two.

Eighteen farmers have died in Shimoga district, the rice-bowl of the State, since April. All of them are small farmers, and there are no areca growers amongst them although the areca economy has been seriously hit because of the crash in prices owing to imports. All the seven taluks in Shimoga have been declared drought affected. The story of Neelkantappa and his son Shivarappa, paddy cultivators from Madikecheeluru in Shimoga taluk, is different only in detail from the others. There was a dispute between the father and son over who should repay the huge outstanding loans they had taken. With a gangarene-infested leg, there was little productive work Neelkantappa could do. Not wanting to be a burden on his family any longer, he committed suicide. Overwhelmed by his father's death and the prospect of having to shoulder the burden of repaying the loans and running the family, Shivappa too committed suicide soon after.

It is the same story in all these cases of suicide: farmers engulfed by a sense of helplessness, by crop failure with three years of continuous drought, and the mounting burden of loans from institutions and individuals. An additional factor in Haveri district is that ryots did not get the promised crop insurance facilities, which might have prevented them from taking this extreme measure.

Compensation for the families of victims has been very slow in coming in all the districts. The bureaucratic process of a committee, headed by an Assistant Commissioner at the district level taking its time to distinguish the "genuine" cases from the "fake", has prevented relief reaching families when they need it most, which is immediately after the breadwinner's death. Families of only three of the 18 suicide cases have received compensation in Shimoga district. In Haveri district, only three families of suicide victims out of 14 have received compensation. Even the most genuine of cases, that of Shekavva Hiremath, was rejected by the committee.

(Compiled from reports by Madan Mohan in Hubli, Pramod Mellegatti in Shimoga and Vijaykumar Patil in Belgaum.)

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