On Sunday morning, 58-year-old Nellippuzayil Johny Mathayiâ€™s family found him unconscious at home. A farmer and native of Cheruthoni in Idukki, he had attempted suicide on his farmland and was rushed to the Idukki taluk hospital. Though Johny was shifted to the Kottayam Medical College hospital, it was too late and he passed away on Wednesday night.
Johny was an active farmer who had taken land for lease and planted tapioca, banana and vegetables. Like many other farmers in Idukki and elsewhere, Johny had taken a bank loan and also loans from his friends. But he failed to repay the loans on time as his crops had been destroyed by wild boars which raided his farm. This was just months after his agricultural produce and goods had been washed away in the August 2018 flood, which devastated Idukki and other parts of Kerala. Johnyâ€™s family says, it was a bank notice reminding him to repay the loan which triggered his suicide.
But Johnyâ€™s is not an isolated case, in fact, it is the third such similar suicide in little more than a month. On January 2, a debt-ridden young farmer Santhosh (37), a native of Merigiri in Idukki, was found dead on his farmland. Santhosh too had taken a bank loan and chose to kill himself when he was unable to repay the loan.
Weeks later, on January 28, Kunnumpurathu Sahadeven (68), a native of Vathikkudy in Idukki, killed himself after he received a bank notice to seize his land. His land had been mortgaged to the Murikkasery Co-operative Bank as guarantee for securing a loan for his son. His elder son had taken the bank loan of Rs 12 lakh after giving one-and-a-half acre of land owned by Sahadevan in 2016. When Sahadevan received the bank notice the farmer took his own life, said his relatives.
Abhilash KB, a relative of Sahadevan told TNM, " Till now we didn't get any financial assistance from the government. Sahadevanâ€™s son had taken bank loan and planted tapioca and bananas. But the August flood totally washed out the farms and his he was unable to repay the loans. Presently, we have a debt of Rs 13.68 lakh in the Murikkasery Co-operative Bank and there is no way for us to repay the bank loan."
Sahadevan was in a stress after receiving the notice from the bank, said Abhilash.
Hitting out at the LDF government for the spike in farmer suicides, District Congress Committee President Ibrahimkutty Kallar said, "The farmer deaths show that the state government has totally failed to provide financial assistance to the farmers in the district."
Kallar points out that the three recent farmer suicides were from the Cheruthoni region in Idukki, which was hit hard during the floods last August. â€œThousands of farmers in the Cheruthoni, Karimpan, Chelachuvad, Merigiri, Kanjikuzhi and Pazayarikkandam areas are facing huge financial crisis as their agricultural lands were washed out during the August flood," he says.
And while the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government had announced a one-year moratorium for repayment of bank loans, Kallar says that banks have recently started sending recovery notices to farmers.
The high range areas of the district especially in the Cheruthoni area are largely damaged and need reconstruction. During the floods, Idukki experienced 278 landslides and 1800 mudslides, 57 people being killed in the natural disaster. According to data from the district administration, 279 people lost land and houses, while 1993 houses were fully destroyed, 7,160 houses were partially destroyed in the floods. As per official estimates, 11530.64 hectors of agricultural land were destroyed due to the floods, amounting to Rs 67.24 crore worth of crop loss.