District authorities admit stress of ‘debt burden'

Even though the West Bengal government is yet to confirm that suicides by farmers in the Ausgram block of Bardhaman district are drought-related, following the third incident on Wednesday, district authorities admitted on Thursday that the farmers were “under a stress of debt burden.”

“It is not possible to be sure whether the suicides are drought-related or not, but it is clear that the economic condition of the farmers was not good and they seem to be under the stress of a debt burden,” District Magistrate Omkar Meena told The Hindu on Thursday.

On Wednesday, Gosai Patra, a share-cropper, hanged himself. His wife was delivered of a baby girl just three days ago and his family says he had appeared stressed ever since, Mr. Meena added.

Bardhaman is one of the 11 districts declared drought-affected. Gosaid Patra is the third farmer to have committed suicide within a fortnight.

The State government however, maintained that whether or not the suicides were drought-related could be ascertained only after further investigation. “As of now I would not say that these farmers committed suicide because of drought, as that is being investigated,” said Naren Dey, Minister for Agriculture.

Clarifying that there was no scarcity of foodgrains in the district and that none of the families of the farmers in question faced a threat of starvation, Mr. Meena said some of them had fallen into a debt trap with local money-lenders because of inadequate institutionalised financing. “There is a need for improving the access to loans from banks and micro-financing. We had a meeting with the bankers on August 31 asking them to provide loans as per the guidelines of the Reserve Bank of India in drought-affected areas,” Mr. Meena said.