Sunday, September 03, 2006

Aid group: 105 Indian farmers committed suicide in August after failing to repay loans


Aid group: 105 Indian farmers committed suicide in August after failing to repay loans

Sunday September 3, 10:55 PM

More than 100 farmers committed suicide in one of India's most prosperous states last month after they were unable to repay loans, an activist group said Sunday.

A record 105 farmers killed themselves in six mostly cotton-growing districts of Maharashtra state during August, taking the toll of suicides this year to 814, the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti said in a report.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The deaths came despite a 37.5 billion rupee (US$815 million; euro640 million) aid package for the six drought-hit districts _ collectively known as the Vidarbha region _ announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a July visit to the area.

At the time, Singh acknowledged that debts among farmers have increased despite a booming Indian economy and said the "national problem" needs urgent attention.

Still, suicides continued because the aid package has done little to address a crippling debt crisis among the farmers, said Kishore Tiwari, president of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, which keeps a daily log on farmers' deaths in the region.

Tiwari said the government's plan has failed because it ignored two key demands _ a complete waiver of loans owed by Vidarbha farmers to banks and a minimum procurement price of 30,000 rupees (US$650) per ton of cotton.

The package included a waiver only of interest charges, and Singh said state-run banks and financial institutions would reschedule some 13 billion rupees (US$280 million; euro220 million) in loans to the farmers.

Also, many farmers borrow from local money lenders who charge exorbitant interest.

In the past five years, cotton prices in India have dropped from 27,000 rupees (US$600) per ton to 17,000 rupees (US$370) per ton.

Also, farmers say they have been paying more for electricity, fertilizer and loans as the Indian government has increasingly cut subsidies under an economic liberalization program it launched in 1991.

India's agriculture is largely dependent on seasonal monsoon rains, but erratic rainfall and crippling water shortages over the past five years have caused thousands of debt-burdened farmers to take their lives in Maharashtra and the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

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