West Bengal is in fragile situation: Sainath

Even though West Bengal is one of the only three States in the country that has seen a decline in the rates of farmer suicides over the last 15 years, the situation in the State as in the rest of the country is precarious, renowned journalist and Ramon Magsaysay awardee P. Sainath said here on Monday.

According to the records of the National Crime Records Bureau, West Bengal reported an annual average of 1,454 farmer suicides between 1995 and 1999, 1,200 in the next five years, and 1,014 in the subsequent five years, Mr. Sainath said. Kerala and Karnataka are the only other States to have reported a significant decrease in deaths for the same period.

Emphasising that “the farmer suicide is not the farm crisis, it is the outcome of the crisis,” Mr. Sainath said that West Bengal will also have to be cautious as “it is in a very fragile situation” and in no way isolated from the agrarian crisis. He also pointed to the vast land used for cultivation of tea, a cash-crop that is going to be at the mercy of global prices.

“We have undergoing the largest catastrophe of our Independent history – the suicides of nearly a quarter of a million farmers since 1995. We are talking of the largest recorded rate of suicides in human history,” Mr. Sainath said at the “Third Michael Sprinkler Lecture” organised by the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata.

He pointed out that eastern India as a whole had fared better in tackling the agrarian crisis compared to the Western States. These States have better water supply and more farmers here have continued producing food crops instead of cash crops, he said.

Mr. Sainath said that in the five States that account for two-thirds of the total farmer suicides in the country – Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh – the situation was much worse in the regions that mainly produce cash crops. Asked to comment on the budget allocation of Rs. 400 crore in subsequent years to bring the Green Revolution to the Eastern States, Mr. Sainath said that even though there was need to improve productivity, “the East should not import problems that it has on a smaller scale.”

He cautioned against following “the Punjab model” in the region as “following the practices of corporate-led agriculture will be a death warrant for the farmers.” Punjab is plagued with problems of a depleting water table and its ground water is being poisoned, he added.