Pramila Shende, Manoli village, Yawatmal, looks on vacantly at a group of old women cleaning wheat in front of her thatched mud house. It is for the 13th-day ceremony for her mother-in-law who passed away on February 2. Just two weeks prior to that, on January 14, her husband, Ramrao Shende, 40, hanged himself in the field after he could not pay off his crop debt. His ailing mother’s condition worsened and she died leaving Pramila, 35, and her four children aged between 12 and 3 years behind. He had received the loan waiver in 2008 and had borrowed several times after that.
“He never said or indicated that he was under so much stress. He never discussed money with me. All I know is that he was trying to get the BPL card so that we could get some benefits,” said Pramila, who has never been to school and works as a farm labourer when time permits her.
UPA government’s Rs 52,275 crore farm loan waiver was hailed as a life-saver (literally, considering Vidarbha region was reporting several farmers’ suicides every day) in 2008. However, four years after that, with one Lok Sabha win under their belt, the Congress led government now stares at a CAG report that says, it really may not have helped the person in question—India’s struggling-for-survival farmer.
Ramrao’s suicide may be a case in point. Despite the temporary relief of the waiver, he finally did what has been the inevitable fate of these farmers in the region. Their four acre plot never earned them anything, her relatives say. While his bank loan amount is only Rs 11,000, his friends estimate that he owed much higher amounts to money lenders. Pramila is yet to get any compensation for her husband’s death.
“Ramrao must have become a defaulter at the bank and so he started borrowing from different people. It will be hard to find how much he borrowed but he clearly felt dejected that he could not look after his wife and children,” said Mohan Jadhav, secretary, Vidarbha Jan Andolan, an NGO that has been fighting for farmers’ rights in this area. The villagers have been by her side in the past two weeks.
However, the support may not last. In the neighbouring district of Wardha, Kamlabai Gudhe’s husband Palasram committed suicide in 2006. They received much attention and Rs1 lakh in the compensation package. As soon as any vehicle enters Lonsawli village, where she stays with her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren, the villagers make caustic remarks—“They must be getting more money. Government will only look at their family, as if we are not in trouble just because we have not committed suicide.” So on. Kamlabai recently fell at home and her son is again under debt because of the treatment.
The fact is most farmers in this village too have farm loans, did get the waiver and borrowed again repeatedly, without being able to pay.
That points to the crux of the matter.
A defaulter farmer, for the past two years has been going to money lenders, mortgaging gold and land to fund the cost of production. Farmers said costs of seeds, fertilisers, insecticides and labour charges have consistently increased and never match the rates they get for their produce. Roughly calculated a farmer puts more than 20,000 to produce a maximum of 4 quintal cotton per acre every year. For that, he gets a maximum of Rs 16,000. The calculations never add up, they say.
None of these issues are new. They very well existed before the loan waiver. And they do so now. “Unless there is a plan for income generation for the farmer no loan-waiver will work. The farmers don’t need waivers, they need adequate loan and competitive market prices,” says Jawandia. Officials also said that without taking into account their social, health and education needs, the farm loans will continue to be diverted to handle marriages, deaths, hospital visits etc.
The waivers have also perpetrated a negative mindset. Bank officials said the ones who could pay back are refusing to do so in the hopes of another waiver. Some farmers also accepted that.
Purshottam Kakde, managing director of the Yawatmal District Central Cooperative Bank said the majority of bank’s NPAs were from the crop loan account holders who received the waiver. “There were no irregularities from our side while disbursing. But of the total outstanding loan amount of Rs 400 crore, maximum is due by the waiver beneficiaries.” He added that once a defaulter, a farmer does not receive loans. “They do not understand that they are not benefitting from the other schemes such as zero percent loans etc.” The farmers borrow from unofficial sources with an interest rate of 5% per month, that is 60% a year.
A Congress stronghold, the farmers pinned hopes on visits of PM Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi before Lok Sabha elections in 2004, 2009. The expensive carrot of loan waiver was dangled and it worked for the election results. And with an eye on 2014 elections, the farmers are waiting for more.
In the meanwhile, they spend their days at the farms. “It is a good exercise and a good pass time. Nothing more,” says a sarcastic Sindhu Lohare, from Dorli village, Wardha. As regards Pramila, who manages to speak only a yes or a no, it is hard to tell if she is grieving for the deaths of her loved ones or worrying about her children’s survival.
Hanuman Lambe, Dorli, Wardha
In Dorli village farmers are extremely protective about Hanuman Lambe, who has a 3 acre irrigated plot. Although as indebted as everyone else, he is a proud father of Sushma who is currently pursuing engineering in Ichalkaranji.
“I used to repay regularly so I got a benefit of only Rs 15000 when the waiver was announced. However, I borrowed Rs 25,000 the following year but the crop failed. And I had to raise money for my daughter’s education,” said Lambe, who had already sold 2.5 acres for his elder daughter’s marriage. He now has a crop loan of nearly Rs 58,000 and has got 10-12 quintal cotton this year. At best, he will earn about Rs 48,000 in the market this year. He has to purchase seed, fertilizers, insecticide etc for the upcoming season. And of course we need to add some living costs—for the entire year— to that.
Vilas Zade, the deputy sarpanch and his friend said Lambe was extremely depressed and had started to behave strangely. “We were really worried for him. On one hand his daughter, who is both intelligent and hardworking, had got admission and had to pay the fees in one week’s time. On the other hand, a farmer simply cannot raise Rs. 50- 60,000 at such short notice,” said Zade.
After persuading the bank officials he received an educational loan of Rs 1,10,000 per year for his daughter and he mortgaged the only 3 acre plot that he has. His daughter will get six months after completion of her course to start repaying.
“We have taken a chance. But we don’t know how it will all unfold. These are hard times,” says his wife Sulochana sounding happy and worried at the same time.