Special Correspondent

Seeks policy corrections at Centre to tackle problem of farmers' suicides in Kerala

Says import duties need to be raised to reasonable levelsState Government working on a strategy to find a lasting solution to the crisis in the farm sector

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

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.

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 was 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 a very large number of farmers were inescapably caught in a 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 lakh 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 on the farmers. The children of farmers who had committed suicide required financial assistance for their studies. The Centre should announce a scheme for giving scholarships and grants for such children. He said agriculture was a State subject and, therefore, the country should desist from entering into trade agreements affecting the farm sector without consulting the States and evaluating all the consequences.

Review agreements

The agreements in force should be subjected to a thorough review in the light of horrid experiences of the recent years.