Driven to despair

INPUTS such as irrigation, high yielding seeds, fertilisers, agro-chemicals and electrical power should have made life easier for the farmer. But despite the availability of such facilities -- or because of it -- 24 small and marginal farmers of Andhra Pradesh's Guntur and Prakasam districts committed suicide in 1987-88 because of the havoc wrecked by bollworms. The farmers were driven to this step after being saddled with heavy debts incurred over buying pesticides that proved ineffective against bollworms.

Andhra Pradesh, with only 5 per cent of the total area under cotton in the country, accounted for 17 per cent of the pesticides used in 1987. But instead of curbing the menace, the indiscriminate use of pesticides has only enabled bollworms to develop resistance to the chemicals. Consequently, Andhra's cotton farmers lost between Rs 9,265 and 11,735 per ha in 1987.

New and more potent pesticides were then introduced, leading the farmers to mortgage gold, property and cattle to borrow vast amounts of money.

Apart from the farmers, many landless labourers also committed suicide. There were starvation deaths, too, as families went without food for days.

The state government showed little concern. In fact, then chief minister N T Rama Rao was not even aware of the suicides until journalists questioned him on the issue about a month later.

Indebtedness cost the farmers of Andhra their lives. Farmers in Haryana have talked about indebtedness forcing them to dispose of their cattle. Are they too bound the Andhra Pradesh way?