PDS may come under NHRC scrutiny

BANGALORE Oct. 10. The State's public distribution system (PDS) may come under the scanner of the special rapporteur of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), K.R. Venugopal, who has been asked to conduct an on-the-spot inquiry into the Maktaramapura family suicide case in Raichur district.

Mr. Venugopal will look into the efficacy of the PDS if it is found that the deaths were due to starvation. "That's a more serious issue," he told The Hindu, referring to allegations of malnutrition and starvation.

All the circumstances leading to such a situation have to be looked into, he said. He was here to participate in a workshop organised by NHRC and the State Government on issues related to bonded labour and child labour.

When asked whether his focus would only be on the Maktaramapura incident or would cover the issue of suicide by farmers as well, he said the Maktaramapura incident would be a case study. A similar situation could be prevailing in other parts of the State, he said, adding that he would get to know of it only by interacting with the people. Mr. Venugopal is likely to visit the village on October 19.

The NHRC had asked Mr. Venugopal to conduct an on-the-spot inquiry into the incident in Maktaramapura of Kushtagi taluk in Koppal district, where six members of a farmer's family committed suicide on July 31. The former MP, P. Kodandaramaiah, and other leaders had moved the commission highlighting the plight of farmers in the State. Veerabasavva, one of the members of the family reportedly died of starvation. Her three brothers and three sisters who were with her when she died, were so overwhelmed by the tragedy that they all committed suicide.

Mr. Venugopal noted that his inquiry would be primarily to ascertain the root cause for suicide by farmers in general. The inquiry would also suggest means to alleviate the misery of farmers, he said. He would look in to various aspects such as availability of credit to farmers, availability of seeds, fertilizers, markets, and the like. He would furnish his comments to the commission soon after his visit to the village, he said.

The special rapporteur, who was the Principal Secretary to the former Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, studied suicide by farmers in Andhra Pradesh last year and submitted a report to the Government. Lack of adequate availability of credit, distribution of spurious seeds and fertilizers, and lack of proper extension programmes to educate farmers on farm inputs were found to be the main reasons for the suicides in that State.

In his recommendations, Mr. Venugopal had suggested total waiver of loans obtained by farmers from nationalised and cooperative banks in genuine cases of suicide due to failure of crops or related issues. As far as private moneylenders were concerned, he had recommended that district collectors should inquire with the village community, ascertain the total outstanding, and arrange to pay a certain amount of the principal amount to the lender. Then, moneylenders would not harass the family of the farmer who committed suicide, he had noted.

He had noted that in distress situations such as drought, it was the duty of the Government to rush to the rescue of farmers.