IDUKKI: As many as eight farmers have committed suicide in Idukki district since the devastating deluge in August last year. Of which, the reason for the suicide of seven is attributed to mounting debts and failure of crop. This sudden spurt of suicides has raised concerns as to whether this region is heading for an agrarian crisis similar to that of Vidarbha in Maharashtra.
In the latest incident, James of Varikkanikkal house, Chinnar, in Konnathady grama panchayat, committed suicide on Tuesday due to debt and crop loss. James had taken loans from various banks for farming and educating his children. However, the unexpected rain destroyed his standing crops and the spread of disease decreased the yields, making James unable to repay the loan. He was found hanging from a tree on Tuesday evening in the teak plantation at Perinchamkutty.
In a similar incident, Kunnath Surendran, 67, who owned 1 acre, had availed himself of a loan of `6 lakh from Devikulam Taluk Agriculture and Rural Development Bank. However, it was said he was unable to repay the loan due to crop failure. Surendran consumed poison on February 19 and then was undergoing treatment at Kottayam Medical College Hospital where he breathed his last on February 25 evening.
Idukki was not generally in the limelight for farmer suicides, but for the past few months, a steady trickle of suicides have been happening. In January and February this year, three and four suicides were reported respectively from the region, taking the toll since November to eight. A farmer named Tomy, 49, of Niravathu house, Maniyarankudy, in Vazhathope, who attempted suicide on January 4, due to debt and crop loss, was fortunate to escape and is under treatment at the Kottayam Medical College Hospital.
‘Flood compensations meagre’
Santhosh, a young farmer from Marygiri, committed suicide on January 2 unable to repay the Rs 10 lakh loan taken from the nearest Thopramkudy branch of KSFE for farming. Besides, he had also borrowed Rs 15 lakh from other sources as well.
It is reported that he was under tremendous pressure, after seeing the recovery notice sent from the bank. The harvest was his only hope. But the flood of August reduced the yield and the fall in price of cash crops like pepper and cardamom added to his woes.Santosh did not claim the compensation for his crops destroyed in flood as the relief amount was so meagre that for 4,000 banana trees destroyed in the flood, they got only 2,000 as compensation.
In a review meeting convened at the Idukki district panchayat hall, Idukki MP Joice Gorge instructed all the bank managers in the district not to sent any repayment notice to farmers until December end.
The MP said the bank officials should not torture the poor farming community hit by the deluge, poor yield and the fall in price. “If any further suicides are getting reported from the district, action will be taken against the bank officials concerned,” he said.Farmers will be having a moratorium for all types of loans, including education and farming, taken by farmers in the district since December 31.
Fall in price for crops to blame?
The crop damage coupled with price fall has shattered the hopes of a majority of farmers in the high ranges. The farmers are engaged in cultivation of pepper, cardamom, rubber and are also into dairy farming. The price of pepper per kilo is Rs 338. However, during the same time last year it was Rs 600 per kilogram. According to the farmers, the crop should fetch a minimum of Rs 500, at least to cover the expenses involved in farming. While for rubber, the price per kilogram is Rs 100 to 110 compared to Rs 200-250 per kg last year. Milk is sold at Rs 30 to 32 per litre, which the farmers say, is low for a marginal dairy farmer to survive.