Bhubaneswar: In a small village in Orissa's Sambalpur district, in a small house, a family looks to its neighbours for support. 61-year-old Shukla Chand killed himself by drinking pesticide. In this part of Western Orissa, this has become a frighteningly familiar story. Since November, 11 farmers from here have killed themselves.
Farmers have been catapulted from one crisis to another in Orissa since 2009. Floods, drought, and then exceptionally heavy rainfall last year before the harvest. The deaths of 100 farmers have officially been registered as suicides. The state government says it wasn't their failed crops that drove them to their death.
For farmers whose crops were wiped out by pre-harvest rains, the Centre has sanctioned Rs 400 crore for Andhra Pradesh and another Rs 600 crore for Maharashtra. No compensation for Orissa has been announced so far.
The state government, led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of the Biju Janata Dal, has offered to pay farmers Rs 400 per acre for rain-fed areas and Rs 800 per acre for irrigated land - only if the farmers can prove he has lost his entire crop. But farmers point out they invest at least Rs 9,000 per acre for their paddy crop. So the compensation being offered is worthless.
For farmers like Shukla Chand, it seems like there's no one on their side. His suicide note says after his last crop of paddy failed just before the harvest, the loans he owed seemed insurmountable. He had cultivated eight acres of paddy with an initial investment of Rs 80,000. He then took a bank loan of five lakh to buy a tractor, and another three lakh from private money lenders. When heavy rains destroyed his standing crop in November last year, he could no longer cope.
"The Centre and state are playing a cruel joke on our farmers. The policy to compensate for losses due to calamities has not kicked in. There are thousands of farmers like Shukla Chand who are not dead as yet, but on the verge of death," says Saroj, the leader of a local cooperative of farmers.