Agrarian crisis: Farmers raise the pitch against loan recovery

The agrarian crisis in Karnataka is as bad as that in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, both of whom spar over and share Cauvery waters.

With Karnataka seeing a spike in suicide cases, farmers want more time to clear dues.
BENGALURU: Non-banking finance companies are under intense pressure from farmer groups to suspend recovery of loans as Karnataka slips from one spell of prolonged drought into another.

A large group of farmers staged a protest in front of a gold loan chain's Pandavapura branch in Mandya district, urging them to suspend jewellery auctions, and allow time for borrowers to clear their loan advanced against jewellery pledge. In this particular instance, the ornaments belonged to three farmer families who could not pay up in time as drought claimed their crops, pushing them into deep debts. The gold loan company gave in.

"We took it on ourselves because the government refused to intervene saying it cannot interfere with the affairs of private sector lenders. We do such demonstrations quite routinely," said KS Nanjunde Gowda, vice-president of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, a farmer outfit. "My information is that the gold loan companies in Mandya district auction about 30 kg of jewellery every month. We, however, request for more time whenever such instances come to our notice."

The 60-year old farmer leader says he has not seen this kind of a drought in his lifetime.

Most of the district is fed by Cauvery, yet farmers are battling a big enough crisis because rains have failed for the last six years.Between April last year and March this year, Karnataka has had 821 cases of farmer suicides. "Mandya district has had the highest number of farmer suicides in the state, provoked in many cases by the language recovery agents use," Gowda said.

The government stopped releasing water for farm activities in November to save Mandya, Mysuru and Bengaluru from a drinking water crisis in summer. The suspension of water release hurt four-fifths of farmers in Mandya district, who are dependent on irrigation canals to grow crops. The fact that many borewells in the district also went dry added to their misery.
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Data suggests that barring the taluks of Malavalli and Nagamangala, Mandya district is not drought-prone, at all, if one goes by the water crisis Kolar and Chamarajnagar in the old Mysuru region, routinely face. "We have not had rains in the last 10 months and around 500 of my coconut trees have dried up," said B Somashekhar, a former revenue minister who is engaged in farming at Alasalli in Malavalli taluk, on the borders of Chamarajanagar district. "The Hopcoms (a cooperative body to buy and sell farm produce) which I started as horticulture minister in the 1980s have turned exploiters. The hope is diminishing."

In fact, the agrarian crisis in Karnataka is as bad as that in neighbouring Tamil Nadu, both of whom spar over and share Cauvery waters. A high-level committee of the Union Government, two months ago, sanctioned almost similar sums of relief to both states from the National Drought Relief Fund.

"This is the fourth consecutive seasonal drought and the sixth consecutive drought year in a row from 2011," said a revenue department official in Bengaluru, tasked with managing natural disasters. The northern districts of Karnataka account for about 90% of the total Rabi area in the state, and the prolonged dry spell has hurt farm yields.

For the last few months, agriculture minister Krishna Byregowda is running a highdecibel campaign promoting use of millets in our regular diet. "Millets are a superfood with myriad virtues," he said. But one of the compelling reasons behind his department's initiative is the hope that switch to millets may help mitigate the drought pain. He tells farmers that they can grow millets in dry lands with low rainfall. "They are suited for climate change. They are low-input cost and low-risk crop to farmers," he said.
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