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Here are some points that give a broad overview of farmers in India as statistics and other data based information.

How many farmers are there in India?

Depends on what you call farmers. There are cultivators and there are agricultural labour. The data over the years is as follows.

YearCultivators (in million)Agricultural labourers (in million)% of cultivators% of Agricultural labourers
195169.927.349.919.5
196199.631.552.816.7
198192.555.537.822.7
1991110.774.635.223.8
2001127.6107.531.726.7
2011118.6144.324.630

As you see, many things have changed in recent years. Soon after independence, we had more farmers, but more importantly, they were tilling their own land. This number grew at varying rates even though not as fast as overall population growth in later years (indicated by dropping % of population). What we see in the 2011 census is that there are actually more agricultural labourers (working on other people's land) than cultivators (working on their own/leased land).

What is the drop in the number of farmers in India?

The drop of 9 million cultivators between 2001 and 2011 amounts to 2000 farmers giving up agriculture per day in that period. This echoes the dramatic rise in farmer suicides in the corresponding period. It is worth noting that the decline could have started any time between 1991 and 2011, as it is possible that we had even more cultivators that dropped to 127.6 million by 2001 or that cultivators increased for a while and then dropped to 118.6 million by 2011. However, going by other data that went through changes around the same time - like economic policies, agricultural policies, cattle populations and farmer suicides, my guess would be that farmers started giving up on agriculture at some point in the late 90s.

Personally, I find it noteworthy that we had the most % of cultivators just before the green revolution, and the most number of cultivators just before the GM onslaught. Both corporate influenced widespread interventions in agriculture that had a dramatic impact on how farming was done.

How many farmer suicides has India seen?

This is the data as per NCRB.

199510720
199613729
199713622
199816015
199916082
200016603
200116415
200217971
200317164
200418241
200517131
200617060
200716632
200816796
200917368
201015964
201114027
201213754
201311772
201412360
201512602

So aren't farmer suicide numbers decreasing in recent years?

Not really. They are being concealed in various ways from outright not reporting farm suicides to NCRB to creating sub-categories and refusing the suicides under other headings. There are even ways that discourage reporting of farmer suicides - for example financial compensation for accidental deaths, but no relief for suicides. There will be a more detailed article coming up about this showing the various ways. There are, astonishingly, even attempts to show farmers suicides as lower than the overall population by misinterpreting figures!

But isn't the government doing more to provide agricultural loans and waivers?

Agricultural loans go to the agricultural sector and not just farmers. An interesting analysis by R Ramakumar and Pallavi Chavan titled "Revival of Agricultural Credit in the 2000s: An Explanation" shows that a lot of the credit does not actually go to small and marginal farmers - the subsection that accounts for over 72% of farmer suicides. As Pallavi Chavan explains in her article in the Hindu (emphasis mine):

First, a significant proportion of the increase in agricultural credit from commercial banks was accounted for by indirect finance to agriculture. Indirect finance refers to loans given to institutions that support agricultural production, such as input dealers, irrigation equipment suppliers and Non-Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) that on-lend to agriculture.

Second, a number of changes were made in the definition of agricultural credit under the priority sector. The definitional changes broadly involved (a) the addition of new forms of financing commercial, export-oriented and capital-intensive agriculture; and (b) raising the credit limit of many existing forms of agricultural financing. To cite an instance, loans given to corporates and partnership firms for agriculture and allied activities in excess of Rs 1 crore in aggregate per borrower was considered as priority sector lending under agriculture, from 2007 onwards.

[...]

Third, much of the increase in the total advances to agriculture in the 2000s was on account of a sharp increase in the number of loans with a credit limit of Rs.10 crore and above, and especially Rs.25 crore and above.

Even within direct agricultural finance, which goes directly to farmers, there was a sharp rise in the number of loans with a credit limit above Rs.1 crore. It seems likely that these large loans were advanced towards financing the new activities added to the definition of agricultural credit.

Recent data on banking has brought out a fourth disturbing feature of the revival in agricultural credit. There has been a sharp growth of agricultural finance that is urban in nature. Between 1995 and 2005, the share of agricultural credit supplied by urban and metropolitan bank branches in India increased from 16.3 per cent to 30.7 per cent. The share of agricultural credit supplied by metropolitan branches alone increased from 7.3 per cent in 1995 to 19 per cent in 2005. While there was a moderate decrease in these shares between 2006 and 2008, urban and metropolitan branches continued to supply about one-third of the total agricultural credit in 2008. Concurrently, there was a sharp fall in the share of agricultural credit supplied by rural and semi-urban branches from 83.7 per cent in 1995 to 69.3 per cent in 2005. In 2008, the share of rural and semi-urban branches in total agricultural credit was 66 per cent.

So when we talk of waiving off agricultural loans...

The fact is, small and marginal farmers find it difficult to get loans from banks even when they have all the requisite paperwork. Those without land cannot get such credit at all, and money lenders continue to be the reliable source of loans. Loans taken from money lenders are unaffected by loan waivers.

What exactly is the problem farmers have then?

The problem is one of income. Inpur prices have risen steeply over the years, while the price of their produce hasn't. Additionally, with less than a third of cultivable land in India being irrigated, farmers are left to the mercies of monsoon for water for growing their crops. Additionally, the reckless promotion of inappropriate cash crops that fail for various reasons from inadequate water to pests developing resistance to much publicized Bt Cotton has left farmers stranded for choices that generate reliable income.

The average income of an Indian farmer is about Rs. 6,400 a month. With such a low income, even agricultural loans are debt traps. If the harvest fails or if prices crash, the farmer ends up not only losing all his investment, but owing a loan on top of that.

What is urgently needed is making inputs cheaper as well as raising the income of farmers with MSPs that are fair (and not just something for desperate farmers to grab as an alternative to complete loss). There is a need to ensure credit to farmers specifically and ensure that it can be availed easily. Electricity and water need to be cheaper. Irrigation needs to be expanded. There are also other supportive measures that would help rural India overall - like reliable healthcare - most people in rural India cannot afford healthcare. This has an impact on productivity and can push them into debt in the event of unavoidable health expenses. Expansion of schemes like MNREGA serve to provide additional incomes where farming alone is not adequate for survival. Many things can be done that break this cycle of death and despair and there are many wiser people than me who are more competent at making recommendations.

 

Feel free to ask questions in the comments. I will answer as best I can.

2

A Twitter tag #JaiKisan is attempting to educate Indians on the realities and conditions of farmers in India. Farmers produce the country's food. They purchase inputs at retail prices, sell produce at wholesale prices. Unlike a lot of products, farm produce is relatively short lived and takes a long time to grow. A crash in prices basically means doom, because they have already invested in the produce. The reasons for their losses are many and varied. From the vagaries of nature to corruption depriving them of irrigation. From failed crops to bumper harvests with no value because demonetisation has sucked all the money out of the market. This year we saw excellent harvests of tomatoes post a good monsoon being dumped on the streets or cut down as they stood ready for harvest, because there wasn't enough money in the market and prices had crashed so badly, that even transporting them to markets for selling was a loss making venture.

There are other oddities and absurdities you will notice on the #JaiKisan tag. Take for instance Tuvar dal with an MSP of Rs5050/Qt when the input Cost is Rs6403/Qt. Not only is this loss making by design, the farmers actually got only Rs4200/Qt resulting in a loss of Rs2200/Qt. On the other hand, India imported 28 lakh tonnes of tuvar dal at Rs 10114/Qt. The input cost for wheat is Rs 1943/Qt, while the farmer got Rs 1525 - resulting in a LOSS of Rs. 418/Qt!!! Where is the sense in this? Why couldn't the government purchase from farmers at fair prices that covered at least input costs and ideally at least some profit, when they were willing to spend foreign reserves to buy for much higher prices? There are no answers.

This is particularly brutal for small farmers, who have to live on the profits off much smaller land. Is it any wonder then that over 72% of farmer suicides are among small farmers with less than 2 hectares of land? One would think that small farms are inefficient and therefore they are making losses, but that is not true, research after research has shown that small farms are actually between 200% to 1000% more productive than large farms in terms of harvest per area around the world. The problem lies in the greater productivity being over a smaller area, and thus not amounting to large enough profit in total. Yet small farms are clearly the answer if we wish to have maximum productivity from available land!

"Jai jawan, jai kisan" was a powerful slogan by then Prime Minister of India Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1965 at a public gathering at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi. Today, the average income of an Indian farmer is around Rs. 6,400. What sort of life can a person afford with that kind of income? Is it any surprise that India is losing farmers at a rate of about 2000 farmers a day leaving the occupation nationwide?

All this boils down to policies. We seem to have lost a holistic view of what sustainability means to a country. The only time policy makers appear to pay attention to the plight of farmers seems to be when it is time to get votes. Then you have big promises and loan waivers. But the story of loan waivers too is not what it seems. While the perception of agricultural credit is that it would go to farmers, agricultural credit is for the agricultural sector. Farmers get maybe 35% of it, the rest going to industries and businesses related to the agricultural sectors, or as P. Sainath puts it, "the starving farmers of Malabar hill (an elite locality in Mumbai)". Most small farmers find it extremely difficult to get loans from the bank, even when they have the required documents, Others cannot get the loans when they don't own the land they cultivate (no collateral). This drives most farmers to seek loans from informal money lenders, even, in many cases money lenders taking loans from a bank and forwarding them to farmers at higher interest rates! Thus, farm loan waivers amount to maybe 35% of the waivers going to farmers, with the rest going to businesses and industries that are not in distress, while having no impact on the crippling loans taken from moneylenders (though the money lender may get a waiver if they took the agricultural loan from a bank to lend at higher rate).

There has always been a lack of foresight in our approach to agriculture. Influenced by large industries and what they wish to sell rather than listening to the person working the soil. The "Green Revolution" that relied heavily on chemical fertilizers brought a period of bounty that led to heavily depleted soil that cannot produce without heavy applications of fertilizers. The chemical damage to soil ecology, the contamination of ground water from the chemical runoff, the thoughtless push of GM crops like Bt Cotton (which requires more water than regular cotton) in places with depleting groundwater tables and dependent on scant rainfall.... All this has resulted in long term damage to the viability of agriculture and the economic sustainability of farmers. We are not able to see solutions beyond magic wands waved for votes.

Consider the absurdity of pushing GM crops when they have not proved as beneficial to small farms. All that it has resulted in is more resistant pests in return for some short term increase in production, that is already dwindling. On the other hand, the government is also pushing organic farming to prove some utility for cattle manure. Here is the deal. Organic farming depends on a robust ecology of the soil and surroundings with natural checks and balances that enable thriving crops. GM crops are accompanied with heavy doses of fertilizers, herbicides and as the resistant pests increase, pesticides as well - these destroy naturally abundant life forms that are necessary for organic farming. Pushing both at the same time basically squashes the farmer between two completely incompatible methods of growing crops. One from big industry influence, the other for ideological justification. Who pays the price? It is the cultivator, forced to stand with one foot on two stones, becaue while he may choose one method or the other, the ground water or pests do not understand boundaries indicating ownership of land and other cultivators may be making other choices.

This is but the tip of the iceberg. What is needed at this time is to ensure that farmers have an income they can live on - particularly where food crops are discouraged by the government in favor of cash crops that are at the mercy of market prices and cannot be consumed by the farmer for survival, regardless of the gamble with nature. There is a need to ensure irrigation on a war footing. There is a need to ensure low input costs and better sale prices. There is a need for an agricultural vision that is grounded strongly in research and making the country food sufficient and not dependent on imports to meet nutritional needs. There is a need to improve the capacity for food processing and storage with farmers so that they are not forced to sell at low rates for fear of perishability.

But all this needs a government with a vision. It needs citizens with voice interested in where their food comes from, and what the risks are, if that system is breaking down. in my view, the #JaiKisan tag serves this educational purpose in a time where agitating farmers from Tamil Nadu are protesting in increasingly desperate ways - sitting with skulls of farmers who committed suicide, eating rats, drinking urine, eating food served on the road and worse - with complete disinterest from a government that always makes a big show of concern for farmers when it comes to seeking votes.

I urge you all to read the content on the tag #JaiKisan and educate yourselves. The future food security of your children could well depend on it. The current survival of your food growers does depend on it. Happy next meal.

3

The Osmanabad District Cooperative Bank Ltd, has started sending notices to farmers with outstanding loans asking them to repay the loans or the bank would take socially humiliating measures against them. So far over 30 farmers in Nagur alone have received these notices; in the Lohara taluka, over 1000 farmers. The notices are dated 14th October 2016, however the farmers claim that they received them on the 23rd November 2016 (the notices are likely backdated, essentially rendering the one month notice meaningless). The farmers have been informed that unless the loans are repaid, they will begin to face recovery process in December.

Osmanabad district in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra has been experiencing drought for several successive years leading to crop failures and increasing problems with bad loans and farmer suicides. As per government records, over a thousand farmers from here have committed suicide. The actual numbers are bound to be higher, as the government records often don't record those who either took loans from unregistered money-lenders, do not have their own land, or did not leave behind a suicide note (many are illiterate). The problem of farmer suicides had reached such horrifying extents that banks had been urged caution in the recovery of loans that were not paid.

This year some late seasonal rain had brought hope. After many years, it seemed like the cycle of despair was about to break and farmers were looking forward to sowing winter crops, when a new crisis hit. Demonetisation. Banks in rural Maharashtra have seen very little by way of new notes coming in to replace the Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 notes that have been withdrawn as legal tender. As a consequence, there is a severe cash crunch in most villages. Indeed in most of rural India. With Rabi crops due to be sowed and no money in hand to buy seed, things looked hopeless. The government allowed the purchase of seeds with old Rs. 500 notes, allowing a tentative hope to seed, when a further crisis hit several homes in Nagur village.

The Osmanabad District Cooperative Bank Ltd, has started sending notices to farmers with outstanding loans asking them to repay the loans or the bank would take socially humiliating measures against them. So far over 30 farmers in Nagur alone have received these notices; in the Lohara taluka, over 1000 farmers. The notices are dated 14th October 2016, however the farmers claim that they received them on the 23rd November 2016 (the notices are likely backdated, essentially rendering the one month notice meaningless). The farmers have been informed that unless the loans are repaid, they will begin to face recovery process in December.

osmanabad-district-cooperative-bank

This is a translation of the letter (written in Marathi):

Osmanabad District Cooperative Bank Ltd., Head Office, Osmanabad

Agriculture Credit /   / 2016-17.     NOTICE.  Date: 14/10/2016

Shri. Yadav Lukshiram Patil ,  Place:  Nagur

Greetings.

You must be aware of the economic situation of the Osmanabad District Bank. Since the bank is in a financial difficulties, the bank depositors have their full focus on the bank. Due to the increase in overdue unpaid loans there is the fear of  loss of liquidity for the bank which is now caught in this quagmire. At least at this time, the only option the bank has to improve its situation is to recover the overdue loans. Naturally, due to the pending loans with you, the bank is unable to pay its depositors the amounts they want to withdraw whenever they want to withdraw. As a result, the depositors are very disappointed with the bank operations. Similarly, many depositors, when they are faced with the prospect of being unable to withdraw their own money from their accounts are sending us statements that if they cannot withdraw their money, they will be forced to commit suicide and you should be aware that if any depositors commit suicide for such reasons, you will he held responsible and you should understand this.

You are a respectable member of the society and you have an overdue loan since 25/1/2000 with the Y. V. K. Seva Society which is a  partner of 'Bhorala' (not sure of this name). Because of your overdue loan, the bank is facing a cash crunch and the bank cannot conduct its operations effectively.

The bank's management committee, senior officers and employee association have decided to use Gandhigiri to try and recover the loans. For this, the bank has decided to do one of the following: 1) Put up a tent opposite your house to protest 2) Make use of a band  3) Ring bells

Due to these actions, your standing and image in society is likely to be in danger. Therefore, to avoid such a situation, you should immediately repay your overdue loans with interest in the concerned bank within 30 days and take a receipt for such payment. Else, the recovery team will take action as explained above.

We are deliberately writing this to you so that you are aware of the situation.

We are in no doubt that you will repay your loan and avoid any unpleasant events from happening.

Expecting your cooperation,

Details of Overdue Loans:

Type of loan,  Principal: 136300  Interest: 348930 . Total : 485230

Yours faithfully,

Sd-

Vijay S. Ghonse

Executive Director

Suresh Ediga, an NRI who had done volunteer work related with organic farming in the region over the last few years was informed about these notices when Dnyaneshwar, who runs an NGO to improve farmers' financial literacy, told him about the plight of the farmers receiving the notices. The farmers are understandably anxious. Cash strapped, demonetisation trapped, and due to sow their rabbi crops, they are in no condition to repay the loans, which have piled up over years of severe drought, with dues that have doubled or tripled in the interim in many cases. One season of rain is nowhere close to adequate to clear loans. The bank is pressuring them because the bank itself is short of cash and this year, due to the rain, the restrictions on loan recovery have been relaxed. Earlier when the bank had threatened farmers about loan recovery during drought, the district collector had intervened. It is unclear what will happen now. Suresh has contacted the district collector again, who has assured him that he will intervene to ensure no harassment happens, but it appears to be a far-from-resolved situation.

The bank itself is close to bankruptcy. Dnyaneshwar contends that far larger loans taken by politicians, sugar factories and other local bigwigs were written off routinely, while farmers are pressurized to repay their own loans. An interesting practice is that moneylenders take loans from the banks and loan this money to farmers. These loan defaulters are politically powerful and well connected and the farmers are not able to confront these practices for fear of backlash. The bank is aware of these practices and yet easily extends loans to them, but the loans to ordinary farmers are very difficult to get and the interest is calculated in a manner that the farmers cannot understand, departing from RBI guidelines where the amount of interest should not exceed the capital. Farmers have often been advised to restructure but they have not been provided adequate information and bank officials, from time to time have taken their signatures on various papers, but no restructuring appears to have taken place. In several cases, the interest is several times the capital. With demonetisation no one has any money at all, and the bank seems to have seen this as an opportunity to extort whatever cash they can get their hands on, from farmers.

All the farmers receiving these notices are planning to meet collectively to decide a course of action. With their backs to the wall and at risk of suicide, they are being threatened that they will be held responsible for potential suicides of those who will not be able to withdraw money from the bank due to their non-repayment of dues. They fear harassment from the recovery agents of banks. Being financially vulnerable themselves in a region where there are several suicides of farmers per week, the threat of being held legally, socially or morally responsible for the suicide of any another person, even in an illogical manner, is a particularly traumatizing threat. The idea that they could publicly be accused of causing suicides and humiliated has them all in a terrible state and Dnyaneshwar fears that this kind of extortion can lead to increased suicides this year. It is a Mexican standoff made worse by the cash crunch stemming from demonetisation. The farmers inform Suresh that they have been warned of actions taken to socially humiliate them beginning in December unless they pay off their dues.

Unless something is done to defuse the situation, the farmers could be faced with harassment over loans they don't have the money to pay off in addition to the stress of not having legal tender for expenses related to winter sowing (they can only buy seeds with the old notes). Banks need to find cash to satisfy increasingly irate customers bombarded with information about the withdrawals they are entitled to make, yet almost never see in rural India. People need money to survive, and banks are where they have been told they can get the money. It is a tinderbox of desperation waiting for a spark.

What happens next is anyone's guess.

Update: This story has been taken action on. It is now getting the attention of various people from banking to government and media. More information will definitely follow. There are actions being taken to protect the farmers from further threat.

2

Sheela Rathod was the first to consume a bottle of weedicide in their home. An hour later, as she was being rushed to a government hospital, her husband Mohan, consumed the second bottle. In a span of two hours on December 19, 2015, the husband and wife farmers of 4 acres in their mid-40s lay alongside battling for their lives in the Yavatmal hospital, their two shaken teenage-sons by their side. On December 22, Sheela lost the battle for life. Two days later, Mohan died.

“They were conscious all the time but the poison had spread in the body and could not be removed,” says their elder son, Santosh, wearing a cap to hide his tonsured head. The after-death rituals over, he is slowly coming to terms with the hollowness that, he says, suddenly surrounds him and his brother. Their immediate tension however is ‘debt’. “What do we do of the loans our parents took?” The list of debtors is long and includes of both formal (such as bank) and informal (money lenders) sources, he says.

It’s barely a fortnight since the two died, but Deonala, a village about 40 km from Yavatmal in Vidarbha’s cotton belt, is on the edge. Two others had committed suicide in October. They had mounting loans, and like that of the Rathods, rain-fed fields with failed crops: no soybean; no cotton; no lentils. For several years now, they say, they have not seen a good agriculture season that brought good monetary returns.

Almost every family in the village of 1500 people is reeling under debts that they can’t repay. Bad crops apart, there’s no work to be found. No cash in hands to meet exigencies. No source of money in sight. Most have no idea of how to sustain the next six-eight months until the next monsoon arrives and first shoots of a new crop show up. Deonala is staring at a long summer ahead, they know.

This is but a representational example of an unfolding new crisis that government and policy makers call scarcity – of water, crop, food and cash – that’s going to test both, the people and the government. For, this might turn out to be the toughest drought in the recent history for the peasant-farmers of not just Vidarbha, but many other regions – Marathwada, Bundelkhand, north-Karnataka, Telangana, parts of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, western-central Odisha, stretches of Indo-Gangetic plains, and even Haryana. For some regions, this is an annual aberration. For others, it’s a continuation of drought.

More than 100,000 villages and several small towns are in acute crisis if one adds the tally of blocks and tehsils declared scarcity-hit by ten states after the revised or second crop assessment in November. The severity is invisible at this stage; it’s the peak of winter and on fields in some parts the winter crop is yet to be harvested. In many parts, like Marathwada, Bundelkhand, or north-Karnataka, drinking water scarcity looms as artificial storages and the rivers run dry. And farm suicides are back with a vengeance in the areas under scarcity: local language newspapers are reporting three to four suicides every day.

About 300 km from Deonala, in village Dadham of Akola district, 15-year-old school boy Vishal Khule killed himself on the morning of November 22, a few days after Diwali, in his small home, while his mother cooked chapatis. When he collapsed, his parents noticed a white liquid oozing out of his mouth, and the emptied can of “poison” lying by his side. Vishal was a 9th class student of Maharanapratap Vidyalaya in Akola town. He would commute to his school and also help his 2-acre father Vishwanath on the farm when he was back.

His elder brother Vaibhav, 18, has dropped out and works as a daily-wager wherever he finds work. In Diwali, Vishal worked with his brother, but could not earn enough to buy new clothes and some school books, his father said. The Khules belong to an Andh tribal community. The village has marginal farmers, who double up as farm labourers to make a living. But with their own fields lying empty and drought wrecking the farms of big farm owners, there’s no farm employment.

“This is the worst year and a continuation of drought for last three seasons,” Akola district collector, G Sreekanth, said. “We began preparing for the coming summer in September, last, even when monsoon was to officially end.” The administration sensed the impending crisis when rains failed completely.

Akola, like many districts in Maharashtra, received only 60 per cent of its average annual rainfall of 692 mm. “That’s around 500 mm rains, which may not sound all that bad, but we got 400 mm of that in two days, on August 4 and 5,” he said. After August 5, Akola recorded 41-day gap in rains – a very long dry spell, he said. “Every crop has failed: soybeans, cotton and tur (lentils),” he said. “People don’t have money in their hand and there’s going to be shortage of water,” he said.

It was the crop failure and lack of money that drove Bhimsagar Sonone, 39, and his wife Vrushali, 35, to attempt committing suicide on November 12, a day after Diwali, in a fit of rage, in their home in Pardi, about 80 km from Dadham in Akola district, but they miraculously survived. Like the Rathods did, they too consumed a bottle full of weedicide, meant for the crop of green gram on their two-acre farm. They were saved because they got medical aid in time.

“It was wrong of us to have done that,” they said at their Pardi home, still visibly depressed. The couple has three children, a daughter and twin-sons. A day after Diwali, the two fought with each other, just as any couple would. The reason for conflagration though, was there was no dime to buy new clothes and get their children some Diwali crackers, Vrushali said as she cried. The anger over distress spilled over. Farming in rain-fed conditions has become a never-ending drought, Bhimsagar says, nailing one of India’s biggest structural problems of poverty and growth bottlenecks. “Without water you can’t farm.”

They narrate the story that the Rathods would have, if they were alive: The farm yielded nothing; loans mounted; cash flow choked; tension and desperation built up; household expenses became difficult to be met; and no sustained work could be found. He had mortgaged all of Vrushali’s gold ornaments.

Multiple loans

Back in Deonala, Sheela’s death has added to the burden of the 19 women of her age, members of a self-help-group. For, after her death, the remaining must repay her equated weekly installments of loans they took from different non-banking financial institutions that seem to have mushroomed in this part.

“Do something, these loans are giving us blood pressure,” pleads Pramila Rathod, a neighbor and one of the senior members of the group. “I am working overtime to mop up funds to repay the debts.”

Sheela like these women juggled multiple loans that add up to between Rs 75,000 and Rs 1 lakh, to be repaid over two or three years, on a weekly basis. “Everything else stops,” Pramila says, “not the loan installment.” Together, each woman must pay Rs 4000 or more every week or so – Rs 15-16000 a month depending upon the number of loans each one of them has taken from the micro-finance companies.

When most cotton growers in rain-fed conditions don’t make even Rs 10,000 in profits from their farms, juggling multiple loans several times their frugal income is a sign of a vicious debt cycle they have landed themselves in – it’s a ground similar to the one that triggered a spike in farm suicides from 2005 to 2008.

Pramila shows us the pass-books for each of her loans: there’s Equitas; Vaya Finserv Private Ltd. (which formerly was called Outreach Financial Service India Pvt Ltd); there’s Jan-Laxmi finance and there are a couple others whose passbooks the women could not show us. The group has to split within themselves the installments of Sheela and when they are struggling to repay their own, it is a Himalayan burden.

Each of these loans comes at 20 per cent or more interest rate, much higher than the ones salaried class pays on buying consumer goods. Most of them have willingly and knowingly opted for multiple loans for the lack of options. Pramila explained it: “Our bank loans are unpaid; we have not been able to pay our bills for inputs to the dealers; private hand loans remain unpaid too, so who would lend us?”

Enter the companies, ready to dish out small cash to a group without any collateral, and the families, desperate for money, latch it up – without thinking of the consequences. The money goes into farming and when farming fails, the loans trigger a vicious repayment cycle for which you must borrow more.

Deonala’s women have much of their gold mortgaged with private lenders or jewelers; pawns they are unable to free. Cattle prices have tanked as buyers shrink and a cow-slaughter ban hits the beef business in the state. Government aid would be far too less and come mostly in band aids, the villagers rue.

Babusha, Mohan Rathod’s elder brother, has loans; so have two other brothers, Baliram and Raju. Their wives, members of self-help-groups, are indebted too – to the same micro-finance institutions.

An agent of one of these companies said on the condition of anonymity that his company has a deep penetration of micro-loan business in Vidarbha and it is expanding fast. The loans look small but they yield big returns. Since there are no collaterals, it’s the easiest route to cash, but also an equally difficult cycle to come out of. The lenders know most borrowers use it for agriculture purpose and when nationalized banks refuse to lend more to the defaulting account holders, they lend at a high risk.

A fiercely hectic repayment schedule, very high penalties on default, and a collective pressure builds up tension, says Pramila, extremely worried about her next repayment. “The day Sheela died we repaid her installment,” she says. “If her sons find some work and earn some money, it will be good for us.”

In their last moments, Mohan and Sheela kept telling their sons, that they were sorry for them; that they must look after each-other; and that they should move out of the village if they could.

In their two-room hut with a mud-littered front-yard that has a thatched shade, there now hang framed photos of Mohan and Sheela who tilled their lands laboriously and raised their sons frugally.

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Where do Santosh and his younger brother Sandeep go from here? “We are finding it very difficult to get work outside,” Santosh said. There are hundreds like them wanting work. Both had dropped out of school after the ninth class. “We can’t farm this land,” he said as he took us around an arid, stony, land at the foothills of a small hillock, a few km of walk from their home. It’s a ten-acre stretch, of poor soils, that Mohan tilled with his three elder brothers. This year though, in addition to his share of four acres, he had leased ten acres from a tribal farmer and invested in cotton and lentils, hoping for a better return, his sons said.

Mohan expected at least 40 quintals of cotton from 14 acres; he got three. Lentils are fetching a good price in the markets, but Santosh rued the fact that the plants have no pods. This field and stretches as long as one can see are a spectre of doom and gloom – a dry anaemic land with cotton and lentil plants that have fallen lifeless.

The ways in which state governments have misrepresented farmer suicides in the NCRB data and the NCRB published manipulated data without audit.

5 ways NCRB data on is fudged. Based on an analysis by P. Sainath of the data state governments have provided to NCRB, which it has published without an audit.

How state governments fudged farmer suicide data and NCRB released it without audit
How state governments fudged farmer suicide data and NCRB released it without audit

No points for guessing who profits from this.

Based on information published in P. Sainath's excellent piece The slaughter of suicide data: Change the way of counting and the count change