Observing that the issue of rising farmer suicides cannot be dealt with ‘overnight’, the Supreme Court on Thursday said the long-term strategy adopted by the Central government in this regard needs time for implementation and to show effective results. A bench headed by Chief Justice J S Khehar, while agreeing with the government’s request for a year to show effective results of its pro-farmer schemes like Fasal Bima Yojana, said attorney general KV Venugopal is justified in seeking time for effective results. “We are of the view that the issue is serious and things cannot be done overnight…we want to move from paper to implementation,” it said, granting six months to the Centre to implement schemes meant to prevent farmer suicides. It also fixed the hearing on the PIL filed by NGO Citizens Resource and Action Initiative (CRANTI) after six months.
The AG told the court that the government schemes have covered about 40% farmers so far and the government will ensure that it reached at least half of India’s farmers by 2018-19. The court recorded that out of total 5.34 crore, 12 crore farmers were covered under the government schemes.
Venugopal submitted a list of schemes, including the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bina Yojana, and said the government has initiated schemes at various levels. Kisan Credit Card offers insurance at low costs, he added. Efforts were being taken at multiple levels to ensure protection to farmers. He also argued that almost 30% farm land has been covered under the crop insurance scheme and the figure will substantially rise by the end of 2018.
Senior counsel Colin Gonzalvis, appearing for the NGO, submitted that there were deficiencies in making the schemes fully operational and it should be done in true spirit to ensure that the problem of farmer suicides is taken care of.
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Expressing concern over the suicides, the SC had early this year asked the government to come up with a concrete road map to eliminate the reasons for the agrarian crisis. It also expanded the scope and ambit of a PIL that had sought the top court’s intervention in Gujarat where between 2003 and 2012, 692 farmers had allegedly committed suicide.
Incidents of debt-ridden farmers committing suicides have seen a rise. Several state governments have written off loans as farmers battle mounting debts, failing crops and crashing prices. According to the NCRB’s 2014 report, 5,650 farmers had committed suicides in that year. Maharashtra reported the highest suicides at 2,568 followed by Telangana with 898 and Madhya Pradesh with 826.
In its 2013 petition, CRANTI had sought compensation of `5 lakh each for the families of 692 farmers who allegedly committed suicide in Gujarat during January 2003 to October 2012.
CRANTI came to the SC after the Gujarat High Court refused to hear it, saying that the prayers sought by the petitioner related to policy decisions of the government and the court could not deal with policy matters.
The petitioner had contended that Gujarat farmers did not get crop insurance money which affected their ability to pay back bank loans. It had demanded a change in agriculture policy of the Gujarat government for drought-affected areas.