The All India Kisan Sabha will stage a 24-hour mass hunger strike from 3 p.m. on Wednesday, demanding urgent measures to end suicides by farmers in Kerala.
The sabha, a feeder organisation of the Communist Party if India, is demanding Rs.5 lakh as solatium to the families of the farmers who had committed suicide, extension of debt-relief measures, and grant of low-interest loans to poor farmers.
Satyan Mokeri, general secretary of its State unit, told presspersons here on Sunday that a delegation of the sabha had visited Wayanad district to assess the situation. Agrarian crisis had intensified in Wayanad and other districts owing to a drop in the prices of ginger and banana.
Mr. Mokeri said seven farmers committed suicide recently, including one each in Kottayam and Thrissur districts. The others were in Wayanad, the victims being poor marginal farmers who had leased land in the district and neighbouring Karnataka for ginger cultivation along with raising plantains.
While ginger used to fetch about Rs.2,500 a 60-kg bag, the prices had now dropped to less than Rs.500 owing to the arrival of the produce from Nepal. Banana fetched only Rs.8-12 a kg now. As banks would not advance them loans, the farmers borrowed from moneylenders and micro-finance institutions at interest rates as high as 24 per cent. While the investment for cultivation of one acre of land was about Rs.2.5 lakh, the harvest yielded less than Rs.1.5 lakh.
The farmers who committed suicide were those not eligible for protection from the Farmers' Debt Relief Commission as they had availed themselves of loans after 2009. The Farmers' Debt Relief Act should be amended to extend coverage, along with extending the last date for filing applications. Loans taken from cooperatives and other institutions too should be brought under the purview of the Act.
Mr. Mokeri said the government should ensure that the interest rates for farm loans, including those from microfinance institutions, would not exceed 4 per cent. Interest-free loans should be extended to poor farmers. Steps should be taken to extend loans among other benefits to farmers cultivating leased land.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had been adopting a negative attitude towards the issue of farmers' suicide, he alleged. The sabha would submit a detailed representation to him. A solidarity meeting would be organised on Wednesday evening as part of the hunger strike. National president of the sabha C. K. Chandrappan would inaugurate the fast.