The government on Monday proposed the setting up of a parliamentary panel to go into the issue of farmer suicides in the wake of contradictory figures emerging from the States and the Union Home Ministry's National Crime Records Bureau.

The suggestion came after the government was cornered in the Rajya Sabha, during the reply to the debate on the agrarian crisis, leading to two quick adjournments and a walkout by major opposition parties including the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Communist Party of India and the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, complaining that issues raised by them were not addressed.

At the outset, a united Opposition demanded that several ministers connected with the farm sector should be present in the House to reply to a debate on the agrarian crisis because Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had “no power” and was “crippled” in taking decisions.

“Let us appoint a House Committee with members from both Houses that can go to the States to look into the issue [of farmer suicides],” Mr. Pawar said in his reply to the debate.

He said the setting up of a House Committee was necessary as there were conflicting reports on farmer suicides, with 16 of the States asserting that there had been no suicides. “The NCRB has reported 15,900 cases whereas the State governments have reported only 800,'' he said in reply to a query why the government had started relying on State figures.

The entire Opposition supported the proposal. On the demand of the Opposition members, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde were present during the reply in the post-lunch sitting.

Making an intervention, Mr. Mukherjee rejected the Opposition demand to lower the interest to four per cent on all farm loans, instead of extending the facility to only those who paid their debt in time on short-term crop loans of upto Rs. 3 lakh. “It would not be possible at this juncture,” he said, adding that as and when the situation improved, it could be done.

The Finance Minister said banks had been advised to provide Kisan Credit Cards to all eligible farmers and so far, 10.4 crore cards had been distributed. Resuming his reply, Mr. Pawar said a separate budget for agriculture was not feasible as several allocations for it were made by other ministries like Power and Water Resources.

On the BJP's demand for raising the minimum support price, he said it was not possible at present but made an appeal to Chief Ministers to procure grains at the MSP since at many places “farmers were selling below the MSP and forced into making distress sale.”

Nominated member and agriculture scientist M.S. Swaminathan, whose recommendations on agriculture were yet to be implemented, sought a special session of Parliament to discuss the National Policy for Farmers.

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