State seeks policy corrections at Centre

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Special Correspondent

Thiruvananthapuram: Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan on Sunday sought policy corrections at the Centre to tackle the problem of farmers' suicides in Kerala.

Mr. Achuthanandan made the demand during a discussion here with a fact-finding team of the Planning Commission on a visit to Kerala for a first-hand assessment of the reasons for the farmers' suicides in the State.

The team, led by senior Adviser to the Planning Commission R. Bandyopadhyay, was in Thiruvananthapuram after touring Wayanad district, from where a large number of suicides were reported among the farmers over the last three or four years. The team also had detailed discussions with officials and Ministers on Saturday.

The Chief Minister told the team members that he was sure they would have realised the seriousness of the crisis confronting the farm sector in the State. The Union Government's trade liberalisation policies, under which the import duties on agriculture commodities were drastically brought down, had exposed the farmers to unequal competition from abroad. Survival had become very difficult for them.

"To ensure remunerative prices for their commodities, import duties need to be raised to reasonable levels," he said.

He said a very large number of farmers were inescapably caught in debt trap. He requested the Union Government to direct the Reserve Bank of India to issue instructions to the banks in Kerala to write off loans up to a sum of Rs.2 lakhs in the case of farmers owning less than one hectare of farmland.

He also suggested that the interest on loans taken by farmers owning up to two hectares of land be brought down to 4 per cent. Repayment of the loans could be rescheduled to ease the burden of the farmers. The children of farmers who had committed suicide required financial assistance for their studies. He said the State Government was working on a strategy to find a lasting solution to the present crisis in the farm sector. The strategy would be set down in detail in the new Government's Budget to be presented in the Assembly shortly.

He sought the Planning Commission's generous support for implementing the relief measures being contemplated by his Government.

"Wayanad is the worst affected district in our State. But, the situation in other districts such as Idukki and Palakkad is also very bad. Help should reach all needy farmers," he said.

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