When P. Kalyani’s husband committed suicide last year, he left her with a debt of ₹4 lakh and two teenage daughters to take care of. The death of the tenant farmer in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh was one of the 3.5 lakh farmer suicides that have taken place in the country since 1995, according to the National Crime Records Bureau data. However, Kalyani did not get any of the compensation money or benefits that the State offers to support farmer suicide families.
“We did not own any land. My husband used to lease three acres to cultivate. But they said we were not farmers since we did not own any farmland, so I was not eligible for the benefits,” said Kalyani, speaking at a national consultation organised by the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch and UN Women on Monday. Left with no pension or ex gratia support, she works as an agricultural labourer to support her family.
At a time of severe agricultural distress in many parts of the country, women from farmer suicide families are demanding that the upcoming Union Budget announce a comprehensive rehabilitation package for them, including ₹7 lakh ex gratia and a pension of ₹5,000 per month. Currently, government support varies from ₹1 to 7 lakh in different States. However, only a fraction of families actually gets support, as many States do not recognise tenant farmers and agricultural labourers as cases of farm suicide.
“Maharashtra has had the highest number of farm suicide cases, according to NCRB data. There have been 70,000 cases in the last 25 years. But only about 30% of them have received benefits,” said Seema Kulkarni of MAKAAM Maharashtra. “The Revenue department has specific conditions for beneficiaries: they must own farmland, they should have taken an institutional loan from a bank and they should have suffered crop failure in that year. This does not recognise the cumulative nature of the agricultural debt crisis in India, nor does it recognise that many cultivators do not own land and do not have access to institutional credit, but take loans from informal moneylenders.”
Even women who meet these conditions are often made to run from pillar to post to show evidence of their eligibility to receive benefits. “In Telangana, there are 13 types of certificates required to apply for the ex gratia benefit,” said Ashalatha Satyam of the Rythu Swarajya Vedika.
“Another issue is that creditors push widows for the repayment of debts that caused the deaths of their husbands. In the majority of cases, the ex gratia payment is entirely used to pay off debts, leaving the family with no support in a time of need. There should be a mechanism for settlement of the existing debt.” Even if the deceased man owned land, the land title is often not inherited by his widow, she added.