Bundelkhand farm deaths belie Yogi govt claims on ‘no suicides due to agri distress’

Newslaundry visits Lalitpur and Mahoba for a reality check.

WrittenBy:Basant Kumar

On February 16, during an interview with Doordarshan, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath claimed no farmers in the state had died by suicide due to “agricultural distress” in the last five years.

“Between 2017 and 2022, neither has anyone died from hunger nor has any farmer died by suicide due to scarcity of means,” he said, adding that this did not include those who died by suicide due to “familial and personal reasons”. This “scarcity” included fertilisers; Adityanath insisted no farmer “was allowed to go back empty-handed” and that every farmer “was provided an adequate quantity of fertilisers”.

But, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau, 87 farmers died by suicide in Uttar Pradesh in 2020. Were all these suicides due to “personal” reasons?

Newslaundry visited the districts of Lalitpur and Mahoba in Bundelkhand – which reported several farmer suicides – for a reality check.

‘Returned empty-handed’

At the first stop in Mausera Khurd village, most youths are unemployed, and rely on agriculture to earn a living, cultivating pulses, gram and dried peas.

On October 29 last year, a villager named Raghuveer Singh, 37, died by suicide. His brother, Pahalwan Singh, filed a police complaint, alleging, “My brother used to provide for his family by farming. He had mental stress because of the KCC debt and fertiliser unavailability.”

Raghuveer Singh died by suicide on October 29, 2021.

KCC refers to the kisan credit card – launched to provide relief to debt-ridden farmers. Pahalwan told Newslaundry many farmers have KCC debt – they “take loans and return them” – but this wasn’t the root cause of his brother’s distress. “The true reason is the scarcity of fertiliser,” he said.

According to Singh's brother, scarcity of fertilisers and debt were reasons for worry.

Raghuveer’s wife died a few years ago, leaving behind two sons and a daughter. He farmed six acres of land. After his death, his sons moved in with Pahalwan while the daughter went to stay with another uncle.

“Everyone here was facing the fertiliser problem. The time for sowing new crops was being wasted and fertiliser couldn’t be sourced. We went to nearby fertiliser shops and to Lalitpur but returned empty-handed.”

Pahalwan claimed it simply wasn’t possible to secure fertiliser and meanwhile, the “field was drying up”. “When the crop isn’t sown at the right time, then how would we earn?” he said. “How would we take care of our expenses? He [his brother] was tense because of all this.“

Raghuveer had built a shelter near his field where he would often spend the night. On the morning of October 29, his family found him dead.

Raghuveer’s neighbour Ramesh Patel said he “never mentioned any other problem” other than fertiliser. “Everyone here was facing the lack of fertiliser problem,” he said. “Had he been able to get the fertiliser sacks, then he might have been alive. Many farmers died here because of this problem. It was prevalent in the whole district...Many vendors sold the fertiliser in the black market too.”

Raghuveer had a KCC debt of Rs 3 lakh. Pahalwan said, “Everyone came when he killed himself. DM, SDM, people from SP, BJP, (farmers’ leader Rakesh) Tikait also came – but no one helped financially. I am the older brother so it is my responsibility to look after the children, but how long would I be able to? There’s a KCC debt on their field. Now the responsibility to pay it back is on the children. They are just 16-17 years old, how would they repay it? The government should take care of the KCC debt in this situation.”

We haven't received any government help, says Saurabh.

The family denies having received any help from the government. Raghuveer’s son Saurabh told Newslaundry, “Somehow papa brought us up…without him, there are problems on every front. The studies are also in jeopardy. We have not received any help from the government.”

We met Hargovind Patel at the village square. “No real benefit remains in farming…we educated the children but they are also at home. There is no work. If there is some income from outside then people don’t die if there is a loss in farming, but farming is the only source of livelihood here. In circumstances like these, delay in sowing or crops going bad directly affects us.”

‘Fertiliser issue troubled everyone’

In Lalitpur, we reach Mailwara Khurd village, travelling along the stream on a broken road. Standing amid a group of farmers irrigating the fields through machines using the water from the stream, Biren said, “The fertiliser problem troubled everyone… People used to leave in the morning hoping to get fertiliser but used to return in the evening empty-handed. The problem grew to such proportions that my neighbour Soni Ahirwar hung himself.”

Biren took us to Ahirwar’s home, built from clay, a lock hanging on its gate – the 40-year-old hanged himself on his field on October 26 last year. His wife Rekha had died eight years ago due to illness. His daughter is married and his son Sandeep, 17, now lives alone in the house.

Sandeep shows us pictures of his parents, recalling that he was told about his father’s death while he had reached his aunt’s house on his way home from Delhi where he worked. “I was at bua’s when the call came…He has left me only the land…There’s didi, but she is married. Sometimes when I don’t feel right, I go to her place.”

Soni Ahirwar died by suicide on October 26, 2021.

Ahirwar’s brother last saw him in the village. Phoolchand, 35, said, “Both of us have adjacent fields. He finished early that day and told me that he was going to Lalitpur to get fertiliser. People from the village were running from pillar to post for eight days for fertilisers. He couldn’t get the fertiliser that day either. I met him in a different colony when I was returning home late in the evening… asked him where he was going. He replied that he had lost a key and was searching for it while putting his hands into his pockets…When he didn’t return by 6 pm, we went looking for him at the places he frequented. We couldn’t find him. Then we went towards the field and found him hanging on the mahua tree.”

The police complaint by Ahirwar’s neighbour Mohan doesn’t mention fertiliser. “He was worried due to the illness of his wife and loss in farming, which was the reason for his debt. He hung himself because of this problem.”

The police complaint by Ahirwar’s neighbour Mohan mentions his wife's illness and farming losses.

Phoolchand alleged that his sister-in-law’s death in 2015 was mentioned in the complaint only “so the scarcity of fertilisers doesn’t come up”. “Not only him, but all of us were worried about fertilisers. The sowing period of millets was going in vain…When the body was brought down, even then he had a fertiliser paper in his pocket. Under these circumstances, how can it be said that he did this because of his wife’s illness? You go and ask anyone in the village. As far as the debt goes, yes there was debt and it was being repaid.”

Ahirwar’s family also claimed that they didn’t receive any help from the government. Phoolchand alleged that the police didn’t even come to investigate. “Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi helped by giving Rs 4 lakh…she also got us four sacks of fertiliser. We were able to farm after that. We have received no help from the Yogi government.”

Sandeep Ahirwar now lives alone in the house.

The third alleged suicide due to fertiliser scarcity in Lalitpur was committed by Bablupal, 40, according to his wife Vimla, standing outside their partially constructed home, built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) scheme. Bablupal, who farmed five acres of land, killed himself on October 27, 2021.

“We are poor. Have three kids. Two are in Indore and the third one lives here with me. He used to farm and also used to drive a small carrier vehicle. He was really worried because of not getting fertiliser. He used to return every day and say that he couldn’t get fertiliser and used to shout.”

“He stood in line for fertiliser for four days, went from pillar to post, became restless and kept on talking about it. We had a place to stay near the field. He went there and killed himself. The fertiliser problem was for everyone, everywhere…I didn’t realise that he would do such a thing.”

Vimla holds a picture of her husband Bablupal, who died by suicide on October 27, 2021.

Vimla said she hasn’t received any help from the Adityanath government. “The Yogi government didn’t help at all. Didi (Priyanka Gandhi) gave Rs 4 lakh. I paid off the Rs 2 lakh debt with that money.”

Bablupal’s elder brother Pappupal filed a complaint but it doesn't mention the unavailability of fertilisers. Asked about this, he said, “I told the police everything. After that, I did what they said. I am illiterate, only they know what is written there. It rained a lot at the time. He was contemplating sowing the crop at that time so the irrigation money could be saved. Both of us brothers stood in line to prepare and copy the khasra document. We also went with our Aadhaar cards to get fertiliser, but couldn’t get it. He committed suicide because he was troubled by all this.”

Asked about the chief minister’s statement, he said, “My brother died because of fertiliser scarcity. There was no other reason. There were KCC and other debts, but he was only worried due to fertiliser at the time.”

Crop loss

After Lalitpur, Newslaundry visited Mahoba district’s Gorkha village under Charkhari police station, 40 km from the district headquarters.

Outside a clay house, Brajbhan Yadav’s two daughters played with a ball while his father had left for the fields, leaving his grandmother and younger brother at home. Yadav, 32, had killed himself on October 24 last year, allegedly due to the loss of his crop.

His grandmother broke into tears at the mention of his name. “His mother died when he was little. I brought him up. When he fell ill, we got him treatment by selling our farming land. He died because of the crop. His father weeps the whole night.”

Brajbhan didn’t have much land of his own, he used to farm leased land – farmers pay the year’s rent to the landowner and farm as they wish as per such arrangements.

Brajbhan Yadav’s father Drigpal Yadav.

Yadav had sowed his millet crop early by taking a loan but sudden rain destroyed the crop. According to his father, he couldn’t get over this shock. His father Drigpal Yadav said, “A lot of money was spent on sowing, seeds, fertilisers. Then it rained and he got scared. He was going around the village saying that he would die now. ‘I have incurred a big loss, my whole crop has been ruined.’ Everybody stopped him, consoled him, but he went to the field in the evening and hung himself.”

The village chief Bal Kishan told Newslaundry, “He was an extremely sensible boy, we also made him a member of one of the wards because of it. People in our village had sowed millet…then the rains arrived and everyone had to do it again. Somehow he had done it by taking money. So he got worried and killed himself.”

Another villager, Rampal Singh, pointed to the resowing because of the showers. “The seeds and fertilisers had to be used twice, double of what’s needed…the government is giving Rs 2,000 that makes up for the seeds and fertiliser. There is no other relief…If you look at the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), we paid Rs 5,000 to 6,000 in premium but got nothing in return. The insurance companies are dishonest, they don’t want to pay the insurance.”

Yadav’s father said, “Everyone talked about giving financial aid but we haven’t got anything.”

The village chief said, “We filled up the form for government compensation and gave it to the lekhpal, but haven’t received anything yet.” Bal Kishan alleged that the CM’s claim is incorrect. “Farming here depends only on the rain. The farmers face problems every year because of ruined crops. They don’t even get compensation. Last year, when the urad crop was ruined, the government gave a compensation of Rs 1,000 to a person with less than 5 acres, and Rs 2,000 to someone with more than 5 acres.”

‘People thought they won’t be able to sow’

Arvind Singh Parmar, a local journalist, alleged that there “have been five to six deaths because of the fertiliser problem in Lalitpur itself though the administration hasn’t accepted that these were due to the fertiliser scarcity.”

Talking about the farmer suicides in Bundelkhand, Parmar said, “There have been regular natural calamity, rain and hail storms for a past few years. The farmers incur losses every year because of these, they fall into debt. Distressed due to this debt, they lose their mental and financial balance when a crop is ruined again. They commit suicide.”

“There were downpours and it was followed by the requirement for fertiliser. The government is right here, but fertiliser couldn’t be arranged. A fertiliser sack which should have cost Rs 1,200, was bought for Rs 1,800-2,000…People had to go to the city from the village many times and had to spend a lot of money on it. They went hungry. When the fields started to dry up, people thought they wouldn’t be able to sow. This is the reason for people’s suicides.”

Shiv Narayan Parihar, a resident of Jhansi and chairman of the state farmer Congress committee, has been fighting for farmers’ interests for years.

“Due to natural calamities and bad policies of the government in the past few years, farmers of the region are ruined, under debt and forced to commit suicide when unable to repay debt. A farmer is not able to save his crop from the stray cattle. The BJP government claims to have built cow shelters in every village, but these have no arrangement of food or water on the ground…The crop insurance money has remained stuck in district Jhansi itself for many years. We protested many times on this issue.”

The Mahoba DM could not be reached for comment.

When Newslaundry reached out to Lalitpur information officer with questions on the farmers’ deaths and compensation, he told us to get in touch with Surendra Kumar Rathod at the ADM’s office. Rathod offered to look into the matter and asked us to share details of the deceased, but is yet to respond to the information later shared by Newslaundry. This report will be updated if we receive a response.

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