The Telangana government triggered an outrage among activists on Friday after it told the High Court in Hyderabad that lavish weddings and fees of private educational institutions contributed to farmer suicides.
Responding to a petition filed by farmers groups, the Telangana government had listed several reasons such as 'burden of private loans for visiting Gulf countries for employment,' 'social functions like lavish marriages' and 'children’s education in private schools', private lending, crop failure for two consecutive years, indiscriminate digging of borewells, family disputes and prolonged illness.
The petition was filed in the Hyderabad High Court in October by the Telangana Vidhyavanthula Vedika, a wing of the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC) and was represented by its president Prof Kodandaram, while the Telangana Rythu JAC was represented by Prof L Jalapathi Rao.
The petitioners said, “The recommendations of the MS Swaminathan commission should be implemented in the interest of the farmers.” They also urged the government to fix the minimum support price taking into consideration the practical implications of the production cost of the farmers.
When filing its counter-affidavit with the court, the state government presented the findings of a three-member committee that visited districts to prepare a report.
Activists however, have sharply criticised the government for coming up with “fictional” reasons, when 231 out of 443 rural mandals have been declared drought-affected. As it made the announcement on Tuesday, the Telangana government sought immediate assistance of Rs.1,000 crore from the centre for taking up relief measures.
Kiran Kumar Vissa, State committee member of Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV) says that "It is ridiculous and misleading. Saying that one of the causes for farmer suicides is 'lavish lifestyles' is disrespectful to the farmers. The state should understand that farming does not meet their day-to-day expenses and other needs like proper housing and healthcare and it is because the money they get is inadequate, that they borrow money and end up in debt."
He goes on to add that "the state government should address this problem instead of shifting the blame and it should ensure that the various schemes that it has implemented for the benefits of the farmers seep to the grassroots level."
The state's counsel also disagreed with the petitioner's claim that 1,347 farmers had committed suicide and said that only 342 genuine cases were reported since the TRS government took charge.
It also added that it had increased the quantum of ex gratia to the bereaved families from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh besides waiving off crop loans up to Rs 1 lakh.
Kondal Reddy, a full time activist with farmers on the ground level, disagrees with the state's claims. "It is a general rule that an FIR should be filed after a farmer commits suicide to help the government keep count and provide compensation. Many of the farmers' families do not want to go to the police because they're scared and they also do not have a lot of hopes pinned on the state for compensation," he says.
Reddy says that the other reasons given by the state are "fictional" and adds that "There is nothing to prove that lavish weddings cause farmer suicides. A detailed government study in 2011 and the more recently released NCRB data show that the more than 80% of farmer suicides occur due to crop failure and stacked up debt. The government must provide better infrastructure and help the farmers."
As far as loan waivers and other benefits are concerned, Reddy says "The farmer's only source of livelihood is agriculture and if that meets his daily requirement, then there will be no need for him to take loans. Most of the state government's policies aimed at the farmer are started in good will but they hardly reach the ground level and many farmers live in absolute poverty."
The government while listing the various plans it had for the farmers, urged the court to dismiss the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) which will come up for hearing on November 30.