According to Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV), a farmers’ rights organisation, a staggering 80% of farmer suicides in Telangana are by tenant farmers.

Woman farmer walking in a fieldImages for representation (Charan Teja/TNM)
news Agriculture Monday, April 12, 2021 - 17:28

On March 24, a family of four, including a minor, died in Malkapally village, in Telangana's Mancherial district. Ramesh Jangiralla, a farmer, and his wife first killed their children after which they died by suicide.

The extreme decision was taken as the family couldn’t cope due to financial crises caused by debt and crop losses.While this incident caught the media’s attention, this is just one of several such instances where farmers and their families take their lives, most of which do not find space in the news.

Ramesh was a tenant farmer of eight acres, and according to Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV), a farmers’ rights organisation, a staggering 80% of farmer suicides are by tenant farmers. 

Lack of institutional support

In Ramesh's case, according to an independent fact-finding team (organised by RSV and local activists) that visited the victim's family in the village, it was debt and crop loss that occurred due to heavy rains that mounted pressure on him and his family.

Ramesh and his wife, Padma, were cultivating cotton on eight acres of land on tenancy for the last four years. Crop loss, not having quality yield and lack of Minimum Support Price (MSP) were some of the major issues they faced.

Rajesh Kumar, a 28-year-old tenant farmer, from Morthad in Nizamabad said that farmers like him are facing problems as the assistance given by the government does not cover tenant cultivators. He said, "My family has one acre of land our own for which we get Rs 5000 as Rythu Bandhu assistance, but we don't get any sort of assistance for the other three acres, which we have taken on tenancy."

The small-scale farmers who own less than two to three acres of land usually lease extra land from landowning farmers, who own bigger units of farmlands. And these landowning farmers, irrespective of whether they decide to cultivate or give out for tenancy, are eligible to get the seasonal Rythu Bandhu assistance. Launched in February 2018 by the Telangana government, Rythu Bandhu, also known as the Farmers’ Investment Support Scheme (FISS), provides financial assistance of Rs 5,000 per acre to landowning patta farmers.

Anil Gorre, a social worker who works closely with rural communities, feels that the lack of institutional economic support leads the tenant farmers into a feeling of "helplessness".

Anil said, "Unlike the landowning farmers, the tenant farmers' only source of cultivation capital is informal finance which often comes at high-interest rates, and irrespective of the yield, the farmer is expected to pay it back at the given time."

Another issue, according to Anil, is that the tenant farmers in a move to prevent losses and hoping to get high yield use weedicides such as "Glyphosate", which affects soil health and crop yield. He added, "Sometimes that may end up damaging the crop and affecting the yield, which in turn leads to debt."

Pesticides and seed traders in the rural areas sell their products at an interest to farmers as these farmers aren’t in a position to make full payment immediately. This mechanism particularly affects the tenant farmers when they aren’t able to meet payments.

In the last six years, there have been over 5500 farm suicides in the state, out of which at least 10% were in the last year or so. Siddipet had the highest number of farmer suicides with 624, and Nalgonda, the second highest with 592, in Adilabad there were 333, Vikarabad had 287, and in Jayashankar Bhupalpally there were 264 deaths, according to a study done by Rythu Swarajya Vedika. 

According to RSV state executive member, Kanneganti Ravi, 80% of the farmer suicides are by tenant farmers in the state. Ravi said, "Increased mono-cropping, high cost of cultivation and tenancy rates are major causes for concern, and tenant farmers neither get assistance from the government nor are they given crop loans from banks, leaving these farmers in a pathetic situation."

He added, "There is a massive mismatch between the comprehensive cost of cultivation and MSP, this results in losses." Cotton farmers are the most affected, as per quintal Rs 9,954 is estimated as cost of cultivation, while the MSP is only Rs 5,825.

Rythu Swarajya Vedika in its recent declaration said that of the 5569 farmer suicides, the Telangana government has only recognised 1600 deaths as farmer suicides and only 1200 of these were given the Rs 6 lakh compensation, as per Government Order no. 194.

Activists said that as per the Licensed Cultivators Act 2011, the government has to issue Loan Eligibility Cards (LECs) to an estimated 15 lakh tenant farmers, who comprise 25% of the total agricultural households in the state. The LECs could give them access to 0% interest for crop loans from banks, crop insurance and several other agricultural subsidies. But the Licensed Cultivators Act 2011 is yet to be implemented.

Perils of debt

Balaiah Bupelli, a 60-year-old tenant farmer of four acres, who cultivates paddy said, "Unlike landowning farmers, we have to pay landowners to lease the land even before entering the land and growing on it, and the tenancy rates are fixed, irrespective of the yield."

Srinivas Gonela, a farmer and convenor of Rythu Swarajya Vedika for Mancherial district, said that the so-called farmer-friendly policies in Telangana are "excluding" the tenant farmers in the state.

Srinivas said, "In rural areas, the ruthless interest rates and lack of alternative livelihood is taking a toll on farmers, mainly tenant farmers, and there is no security for their investment."

Kondal Reddy, a senior farmers’ rights activist and a member of the state executive committee of RSV, said that the basic problem lies in the governments' apathy in recognising the tenant farmers as farmers. Tenant farmers historically hail from landless communities such as Backward Classes (BCs) and Scheduled Castes (SCs).

Kondal Reddy said, "Neither is the Licensed Cultivators Act being implemented nor are tenant farmers being included in schemes like Rythu Bandhu, without any institutional support these tenant farmers are forced to depend on the informal finance systems. In most of the cases, harassment due to the inability to pay back loans is the main reason helpless farmers take their lives."

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