09/04/2006, 00.00
INDIA

Maharashtra: three farmers commit suicide every day due to poverty, usury

In August, the richest state of the Union recorded more than 100 suicides among farmers. They said "this is the worst situation ever" but the government said "two or three months" are needed for things to improve.

Mumbai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – More than 100 cotton growers killed themselves in India's richest state of Maharashtra in August, because it is impossible for them to repay their debts to the government and to loan sharks who exploit their poverty.

The figure is a sad record for the nation, bringing to nearly 1000 the number of suicides committed in the first eight months of the year for the same reason. Delhi has launched a highly publicised funding program to ease the tax burdens weighing heavily on farmers' shoulders, but no results are in evidence.

According to government statistics, nearly 4,000 growers committed suicide in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala in the last five years. But independent estimates put the toll much higher, as much as 18,000. The act of ultimate despair is always motivated by the victims' inability to provide the basic necessities for themselves and their families.

Activists seeking to help the farmers say the "situation is currently worse than ever". "The rate of suicide is about three per day," said Sharad Joshi, chief of Shetkari Sangathan, a growers' union. "The government suppresses facts for obvious reasons, but we have names of each and every farmer who committed suicide."

Kishor Tiwari, a human rights activist said the government "has made no effort to get to the root of the problem. Whatever campaigns are announced never go to the heart of the matter, they only tackle side issues."

In July, the government promised to allocate 400 million dollars to be distributed as one-off loans, as well as reduction of interest and restructuring of debts, plus a one-year moratorium on loan repayments from farmers.

Prime Minister of the Union, Manmohan Singh, said "the economic reforms package to stop suicides will take two or three months to show results".

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