Sunday, December 17, 2006

Agence France-Presse-10 more farmers commit suicide in Vidarbha reports today

10 more farmers commit suicide in Vidarbha

Agence France-Presse

New Delhi, December 17, 2006,000900040001.htm

Ten more farmers in India's debt-ridden cotton belt have committed suicide, taking the toll this month to 62, an activist group said on Sunday.

"On Saturday, 14 farmer deaths were reported, of which 10 are suicide cases. The cremation will be held on Sunday," said Kishor Tiwari, president of the Vidarbha People's Protest Forum.

More than 1,000 farmers hit hard by rising debt and falling cotton prices have taken their own lives in the Vidarbha region of western Maharashtra, according to activists.

"The farmers are in huge distress. Relief funds from the government do not reach them because of corruption and red tape," said Tiwari.

The forum represents hard-hit farmers in the state's cotton-growing regions. In December, a farmer was killed when police fired at protestors outside a government procurement office, where farmers sell cotton to the government at the minimum support price.

"The procurement centres are never open. That's why desperate farmers take to violence," Tiwari said.

This week, hundreds of farmers climbed up water towers across the region, threatening to jump off if the government did not intervene immediately. They called off the protest after officials promised to address their grievances.

In July, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced a 37.5 billion rupee (835 million dollar) relief package that included debt relief during a two-day visit to Vidarbha.

But the group said the package has not helped the farmers at all.

"The government has waived off the interest and given fresh credit. Now the farmers have even more debt. A lot of money has not even been released yet," Tiwari said.

Indian officials earlier this year said more than 8,900 farmers hit by debt, drought and falling prices had committed suicide since 2001, including 980 in Maharashtra.

Activists say the suicide rate has hit a decade high this year despite the initial relief package and another 3.7 billion dollar package in September, which provides for investment in irrigation and crop diversification.

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