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Spate of Farmers’ Suicide in West Bengal: Disaster Looming Large

It has been 8 months since the Trinamool Congress led government has assumed office in West Bengal. And, in last three and a half months 22 farmers in the state have committed suicide due to debt related problems, which is again a result of an increase in input prices and non-remunerative prices. Both of these phenomenon, the increase in input prices and a fall in the prices of the crops are a result of the policies adopted by the central as well as the state government.

The input prices have increased because the central government following its policies of neo-liberal reforms has reduced the subsidy in fertilizers because of which in some cases the prices of fertilizers have increased by more than 100% in the last one year. The TMC leader and the current CM was a part of the cabinet which took the decision to increase the prices of fertilizers and she never protested. With such a huge increase in prices of fertilizers, the money invested by the farmers had to increase, because of which they had to borrow money from the market. All this was done with the hope that the prices of the crops will be remunerative enough to give the farmer a positive return on the investment with which s/he could meet the loan and other expenses. But this did not happen. For example, last year the Minimum Support Price (MSP) announced by the Central Government for a quintal of rice was Rs 1050. The erstwhile Left Front government announced a bonus of Rs 50 per quintal so that the farmers received Rs 1100 per quintal of rice. This year the Central Government has announced an MSP of Rs 1080 per quintal. But the current TMC-led government has not announced any bonus for the farmers. As a result, the farmers are getting a price which is lower than last year’s. The same story applies for jute farmers too. The MSP for jute was set at Rs 1675 per quintal. The state government however did not take any initiative to ensure that the Jute Corporation of India sets up procurement centres in the state to buy jute from the farmers. In the absence of jute procurement centres, the farmers were forced to sell their crops under distress and in the process ended up making huge debts from local money lenders and banks. The plight of the potato farmers followed a similar story. With bumper harvest of potato and the state government doing nothing to resist price cash, the price of potato has decreased to 20 paisa per Kg because of which the farmers are getting zero return on their investment.

The rate of suicide of the peasants have increased sharply recently. In fact, it has become almost a daily occurrence. The first such incident came into sight on 17th October when Dhana Tudu, a tribal agricultural labourer, committed suicide in Burdwan. In following 115days, 21 more followed suit. Burdwan district, the ‘rice bowl’ of the state bore the brunt most severely. 15 of the dead farmers are from that district alone. In Maldaha, 3 peasants committed suicide while 2 in Bankura. One each from Japaiguri and Hooghly also took their life under duress. 

While the agrarian sector of the state is clearly under severe distress, the government and the Chief Minister are on a total denial mode. The CM has gone on record to say that there has been no debt-related farmer’s suicide in the state. This is the familiar story which has been repeated thousand times in the killing fields of Vidharbha and Andhra Pradesh. Now, the CM has joined this league dumping the so called maa –mati-manush of West Bengal. What is even more shameful is that far from assuring farmers that their interests will be protected, the government is spending crores of rupees on a beach festival at Digha, organizing conferences for the business houses etc. This completely exposes the utter disregard that the TMC-led government has for the plight of the poor people in the state. The Leader of the Opposition, Dr.Surjya Kanta Mishra has condemned such callousness of the government and has demanded that compensation be paid to the farmers who have committed suicide, like in the cases of the AMRI fire incident and the hooch tragedy. The sensible democratic people of West Bengal will not tolerate such apathy towards them and in the coming days will intensity the struggle against such anti-people policies of the government. 
CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat, who was in Kolkata attending central committee meeting, termed these suicides as ‘manmade disaster’. He alleged that the farmers have become debt-ridden due to policies of the central and state governments. Though more than 2.55 lakh farmers committed suicide in the country since 1995, West Bengal bucked the trend. That was possible because of the support rendered by Left Front government. But in last eight months TMC led government has failed to protect the peasantry. Karat also mentioned that LDF government in Kerala could successfully halt the mass suicide in Wynad. But in last one and half months, there were at least seven cases farmers’ suicide there. 

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