Debt Trap – Death Trap

Fact Finding Report on Farmers' Suicides In AP

A team of 6 members of the Andhra Pradesh Unit of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, comprising the State Convener D.Harinath, and members K. Venkatanarayana, B. Peeklahnaik, S. Yesubabu, M. Parameswar Rao and K. Satyanarayana visited the families of 7 suicides - 3 in Krishna District, and 4 in East Godavari District. We reproduce excerpts of the findings.

Morampudi Koteswar Rao , 40 years old, was a peasant of Surampalem village of Chatrai mandal (Krishna Distt.), who committed suicide by hanging. We found that he had 5 acres of dry land, and was dependent on the mercy of the rains for cultivation. He had spent much money to dig borewells. All the 3 borewells he tried to dig could not fetch a single drop of water – though they left him deep in debt. He raised a loan of 1.5 lakh from private moneylenders and Rs50, 000 from a co-operative bank and also from Indian Bank. Moreover, his wife had an accident and he had to spend Rs.50, 000 on medical expenses.

For the last 4 years, this area has reeled under severe drought. This year, there were some rains initially, but due to a cruel irony, Koteswar Rao could not sow crops due to lack of capital. His only son, a student of Class IX, was forced to drop out of school. After Koteswar Rao's suicide, officials visited his family and assured compensation. But his family is yet to receive anything more than the empty assurances.

Lakshmipuram village of Vissannapeta Mandal in Krishna Distt., is situated in an upland area where the main source of irrigation is rain-fed water. It has been in the grip of drought for the last 4 years. Chellagundla Chennaiah, a 64 year-old peasant, incurred debts to the tune of Rs 4 lakh – loans from private sharks as well as banks. On 25th June, the co-operative bank officials came to his house to demand repayment, and publicly insulted and threatened him. Racked by depression and humiliation, he had a fatal heart attack. Chennaiah did not even qualify for compensation, since his death was not deemed a suicide. Those who impose the agrarian policies and rule the system that killed him could not be tried for murder.

Azmmera Sriramulu aged 55, a middle peasant of the Banjara Thanda named Vemireddpalli of Vissannapeta mandal also died of a heart attack. What broke his heart, too, was the same story of humilations and threats by co-operative society officials as well as private money lenders from whom he took loans over Rs. 4 lakh. The government did not hold itself responsible for his death, or consider him deserving of compensation.

Akula Chilakamma, an elected ward member of the Panchayat, of Lingamparthy village of Eleswaram mandal of East Godavari Distt., consumed pesticide in a bid to commit suicide along with her 2 daughters. They were rushed to hospital, where Chilakamma died, but her 2 daughters survived.

What provoked an elected member of a democratic institution to take such a step? The same story - she had been cultivating banana in 2 acres of land, which was under tenancy from V Krishna for the last 4 years. She took a loan of Rs.2 lakh from a cooperative society, which she could not repay. Moreover she had incurred private loans. She may have been an elected representative, but she was as helpless as the rest.

The MRO refused to entertain a claim for compensation, because she wasn't a registered tenant.

In Peravaram village of Eleswaram mandal, Sattibabu, a tenant farmer, incurred huge losses due to crop failure. His debts mounted to Rs.2 Lakh and, as the usual pressures were mounted to extort repayment, he took the equally familiar path of taking pesticide to end his life. In this case, too, the Government blatantly refused compensation on the grounds that he was not registered as a tenant.

In Gorasapalem village of Thondangi mandal, East Godavari Distt., A Subrahmanyam took land from P.Seethaiah under tenancy. He began cultivating paddy. As there is no remunerative price for paddy, he incurred losses and failed to repay the loans taken from private moneylenders. Moreover, he had 4 daughters, for whose marriages he felt obliged to give dowries – which he could not afford. He too ended his life by eating pesticide. His family too was deemed ineligible for compensation by the Government.

A dalit tenant, Pulugula Suribabu of Venkataipalem of Ramachandrapuram mandal had 5 acres of land for tenancy, on which he grew paddy. His crop failed, and he could neither repay the tenancy, nor the private loans taken from moneylenders. The tenency rate is as highly as 40 bags per acre per year. The heavy debt burden proved unbearable and he hanged himself.

The Rajasekhara Reddy Govt had promised ‘Rythu Rajyam' – farmers' rule. But its claims of a human face and helping hand to the families of suicides, let alone its boasts of an end to the suicides, have proved to be hollow. Of the 7 cases we studied, only one family was eligible for compensation – which in any case has not been paid till date.

It is crystal clear that in all 7 cases, farmers ended their lives due to severe debt crises. The spree of suicides does not seem likely to end, since the Reddy regime is continuing the killer economic policies of its predecessor.

D. Harinath