The death by suicide of a 50-year-old farmer, K.G. Prasad, in Alappuzha has spotlighted the agrarian distress in Kuttanad, widely reckoned as Kerala’s rice bowl.
It has also exposed the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government to strident criticism from Governor Arif Mohammad Khan and Leader of Opposition, V.D. Satheesan and pushed farm bankruptcies and debt-driven suicides of smallholders to the forefront of the State’s public debate.
Mr. Khan waded into the politically sensitive issue. He told reporters in Kochi that the government splurged on celebrations while farmers and pensioners suffered. Mr. Khan said he was headed to Alappuzha to meet the farmer’s bereaved family.
An office bearer of the local farmer’s collective told television newspersons in Alappuzha that Mr. Prasad was under severe mental duress after at least two banks rejected his application for an agricultural loan.
Speaking to reporters in Kochi, Leader of the Opposition V. D. Satheesan accused the government of failing to honour paddy receipt sheets (PRS) issued to farmers by Supplyco, the State government agency tasked to procure grain from cultivators.
He said the State was in a severe financial crisis, and the PRS documents submitted by farmers in banks for agricultural advances had only paper value. Hence, banks would not advance agricultural loans on their merit.
Moreover, the cash-strapped government’s inability to underwrite Supplyco-issued receipts had caused the CIBIL credit score of paddy farmers to plummet.
He said farmers could not raise personal bank loans for marriage or their children’s studies. Often, they were forced to turn to loan sharks. If the government does not address the situation, there might be an uptick in farmer suicides.
Agriculture Minister P. Prasad was in Australia. Food and Civil Supplies Minister G.R. Anil said the government was the guarantor for PRS-based loans sought by paddy farmers as agriculture lending. It had formed a consortium of banks for the purpose.
Those in distress or having suicidal tendencies could seek help and counselling by calling Maithri – 0484-2540530; Thanal Suicide Prevention Centre – 0495-2760000
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