The Kerala Farmers' Debt Relief Commission Bill, now in the Assembly, seeks to check moneylenders who often exploit poor farmers, in a context in which the spurt in suicides by farmers is attributed also to `blade' companies. In addition to this initiative, what other steps are possible to fight the menace? Our readers respond:
Agriculture plays a crucial role in building a strong and prosperous nation. It should be accorded a place of primacy so that the objectives of food and nutritional security, poverty eradication and adequate employment generation are met. Agriculture policies and programmes operate in such a way wherein the States are responsible up to the harvest stage and the Centre after that. This divided responsibility makes farmers feel that they are neglected by both the Central and State Governments. Solutions to the farmers' problems have to be found jointly by the Central and the State Governments. Inputs, credit, marketing infrastructure and market information have to be provided. A mechanism should be worked out by the Centre to enable the States to replace existing high-cost loans with fresh low-cost borrowings. The Government should enact laws to control private moneylenders who exploit farmers taking advantage of their plight. An alternative system of loans for farmers should be established. Political connections of moneylenders should not stand in the way of taking strong action against them. It is good that the Government has introduced the Bill in the Assembly. But the Bill does not have a provision for giving compensation to the families of farmers who committed suicide in the State.
S. Padmanabha Mallya
The State Government should see that there is a certain discipline in farmers getting agriculture loans. Farmers should depend only on loans from public sector banks, co-operative institutions and other Government-recognised financial institutions. Debts of such farmers alone should be considered for relief. It has to be ensured that farmers do not have any kind of dealings with private financiers and `blade' companies. To ensure better credit facilities to farmers, public sector financial institutions should be brought under specific regulations or legislations of the
Kerala Government in this respect. Only loans secured under these regulations should be considered under the Debt Relief Commission Bill when a farmer fails in his farm activities on natural grounds.
H. Ravikumar Pai
Target root cause
It is essential to get to the root cause of the problem when trying to tackle the problem of farmers' suicide. The present day consumerism and the availability of easy loans from diverse sources have been taking its toll. It seems to have turned away many farmers from sincerely working to earn a living. The result is that they have been investing in unproductive areas and in course of time find themselves nowhere. So there should be effective awareness programmes conducted by Government and nongovernmental organisations to inculcate new farming methods and techniques to increase productivity.
Many inputs for agriculture are already subsidised. Outlets for good quality seeds and fertilizers should be made available.
The Government should ensure that the advantages of subsidies reach the farmers. Intervening agencies should not be allowed to drain the benefits. By ensuring these, productivity will go up. There will be gradual increase in income with higher productivity. The standard of life so raised will reduce the burden of the farming community. There will then be better food security as well.
There is a hue and cry about farmers committing suicide. In most cases it is the inability to repay the loan that drives an individual to the act. Would there be so many suicides if agriculture loans were not so easily available? The answer should be `no.' The main reason for farmers' suicide is the easy availability of bank loans. Production has not increased on account of more loans being granted. Agriculture loans should be sanctioned only after proper scrutiny. It has to be ensured that the money availed is spent for agriculture purposes only. Phase monitoring of each operation should be carried out. Further instalments should not reach the farmer if the desired output is not achieved. There are many people who depend on agriculture for livelihood in States such as Punjab, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. They spent the loans obtained for the purpose it is availed. Kerala should also emulate this.
The Kerala Farmers' Debt Relief Commission Bill is expected to give solace to many farmers. Farmers in Kerala are suffering huge losses owing to many reasons. The migration of labourers from the agriculture sector to other sectors has also contributed to the deterioration of agriculture in the State. The Government should act swiftly against the policies of private moneylenders to prevent further suicides by farmers. Moreover, the Government should write off the debts and thereby provide some relief to farmers. Another measure would be to bring all individual moneylenders under a single forum. This forum should be governed by a uniform procedure or moneylending Act formulated by the Government.
There should be discipline in all its activities and notorious tendencies should be dealt with strongly.