Gujarat farmers’ kin to hold march to demand aid

March 9th, 2008 - 6:11 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Narendra Modi

Ahmedabad, March 9 (IANS) A group of relatives of farmers, who have committed suicide in the state because they could repay theirs debts, will march to the Gujarat assembly Monday to demand Rs.500,000 as aid to restart their lives. The group has sought a meeting with Chief Minister Narendra Modi to submit a memorandum, Bharat Jhala, a social activist who is also associated with Action Aid, a voluntary organisation, told IANS Sunday.

He said the group would also meet the state agriculture minister besides holding discussions with opposition parties, including the Congress. Pamphlets describing the plight of families of farmers who committed suicide will be distributed among the lawmakers.

Jhala said the rallyists are members of families of farmers who killed themselves because they could not repay a loan of a mere Rs.10,000. That shows the extent of economic hardships faced by farmers, he added.

Incidentally, neither the state governor’s address to the assembly nor the state budget for 2008-09 made any mention of either the farmers’ suicides or their debt problem.

Jhala said till October last year 542 farmers in Gujarat had committed suicide.

The family members have decided to organize themselves and form Kisan Adhikar Sangh to interact with the government for redressal of their grievances, likely aid, and reclamation of their lands, which were affected by floods in 2006.

That year because the check dams were not opened before the monsoon arrived, farmers faced inundation of their lands up to a 30-km stretch and deprived them of their source of livelihood. The areas worst affected by floods were Surat, Bhavnagar, Surendranagar and Jamnagar.

Commenting on the loan waiver scheme announced in the union budget, Jhala said an estimated Rs.30 billion would be required to help out farmers in Gujarat. Gujarat has about 2.1 million farmers.

Jhala said the waiver scheme does not tackle the debt problem of farmers who have secured loans from the land development banks in the states or cooperative banks.

Even the loan waiver announced by the V.P. Singh government in 1990 up to Rs.10,000 per head had not benefited farmers till date. The cooperative banks that were supposed to implement that scheme still show farmers in debt. The quantum of debt in some cases is as high as Rs.80,000, Jhala said.

The waiver scheme is also silent on loans taken for the purchase of tractors. For providing margin money to the tractors, farmers had taken loans from private moneylenders.

He said the remedy for farmer’s loans is not a waiver. It should be accompanied by a scheme to provide security for farmers that will insulate them against future debts. The farmers may be freed of loans under the waiver scheme but there is no guarantee they will not fall into the debt trap again.

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