“He had gone to sow their rice in the morning, came back and collected the gobar. Then he asked for water for a bath. I gave it to him post which he said he is going again to the farms to work. I gave him food to take along as he set off with all his tools. I kept thinking he’s gone to the fields. But when my son went at around 9 pm to check, his tools lay unused as he hung from a neem tree. He never even climbed trees before but there he was hanging from a tall Neem tree “said Godiya, shrouded in white, as she mourned her famer husband Lala’s death by suicide on the morning of 14th July in Mugaira village, Nairaina block, Banda. News of her husband’s death reached her due to the chaos in the village after the body was discovered. She finally broke down when she says that now; she will fear the sound of any kind of chaos. Her son, who travelled outside the village for work has to now take care of the fields.
Neighbors and relatives of the family report how he had been burdened by agricultural loans, and loans from relatives for the marriage of his daughter and medical expenses for his wife who has been sick for the past four years. The bank notice was what had finally pushed him to do this extreme step. Lala’s suicide is just one of the many incidents that mark the increasing loan waiver crisis in Banda and Mahoba districts that fall under Chitrakoot division, Bundhelkhand. A crisis sparked off by an increasing number of farmers being served bank notices by the local branches of Aryavart, a Regional Rural Bank (RRB) and as we have been reporting since months. Data from banks say that out of 1.10 lakh farmer in Banda more than 8000 have received notices so far.
So much so that in the month of July alone, six farmers from Banda and Mahoba who have received notices has taken their lives. In the case of Lala, the bank manager, Laxmi Narayan Dwivedi claimed that there had been no pressure on him and that the notice is sent to clear up the accounts of farmers whose loans had been waived. He also reported “If he wanted he could’ve received more credits his loan had been waived. But after the notice, he never visited the bank or had any communication. “
Mugaira village Lekhpal Shyam Sunder said, “We went and found out with the bank if any action had been taken against him. He only had a loan for Rs.50, 000 taken in 2015 but it was waived off. Only 6570 were left to pay off as interest. But he never came to ask about it.” He added, caustically, “If it happened by accident, his family would have received some benefit. But since it’s a suicide, they cannot.” Lala’s death may be brushed off by them as ignorance regarding banking procedures, though even a small amount of Rs.6000 is enough to ring alarm bells for a marginal famer in Bundhelkhand.
But the story differs for every farmer. Hardesh, a farmer from Vijaypur village in Mahoba had taken a tractor loan 8-10 years back for which he still owed around 12 lakhs and 2.20 lakhs out of this to Allahabad U.P Grameen Bank. He took his life on 17th July. His son Umesh had this to say “10 days before his death he told us about the harassment from bank officials. They started coming home almost twice a week too. Our fields are lying dry,there is hardly any grain produce, how will we pay the 19% interest?”
Rajendra, a farmer from Pippar village in Banda died of a heart attack, unable to deal with the fact that he cannot afford to marry off his daughter and pay off a loan for Rs.70, 000. The stress of being unable to repay loans/ interest ,of being deemed ineligible for loan waivers whether one is a marginal or large farmer is writ large on many more such villagers in Banda.
Bueraucrats seem unable to gauge the seriousness of the crisis. Sandeep Kumar,Deputy Magistrate,Banda said “Whenever such an incident happens, we go and try to give relief through however means possible. This week itself 14-15,000 farmers have received benefit of P.M Kisan Yojana. If farmers are facing any problems, they should approach the Agriculture department officials or the District Magistrate.”
Ashish Kumar Dikshit, a social worker gives a realistic view of the situation,” If farmers are taking their lives at this rate in two blocks of Chitrakoot division alone, you can imagine the state of farmers in Bundhelkhand. I know more than two dozen farmers who have loan arrears of up to Rs.30, 000 pending and are not eligible for loan waivers. The small farmer is then losing from all sides with support neither from the reigning or opposition parties. The farmer votes a party to power when they give hope for them in the form of promises like loan waivers and it’s the biggest deceit when this is not fulfilled. “
Meanwhile Sharad Kumar Sinha, the Divisional Commissioner of Chitrakoot had nothing new to inform us, “In Bundhelkhand farmers face a different situation from all other farmers in Bundhelkhand due to water scarcity and drought. They are able to take only one crop hence both the state and governments have introduced special schemes for Bundhelkhand. “ On the farmer deaths he says, “ The reasons for these deaths should be found out whether it be hunger, or loans or anything else. We have not received any information regarding farmers taking their lives due to loans. “
As per records, fourteen lakh farmers in Bundhelkhand owe more than 1000 crore in loans to government banks today.More than 3000 farmers have committed suicide from 2001 to 2014. Post 2015, comprehensive government data on this has not been published.
This Khabar Lahariya article first appeared in The Wire.