Name: Reddy Ranga Rao Age: 45 Village: Velpuru Mandal: Thanaku District: West Godavari Date of death: May 23, 2004
REDDY RANGA RAO was an agricultural worker until about seven years ago, when he started leasing land and became a "cultivator". He still had no land, but at least he had others working for him on land in Velpuru, in the heart of the Green Revolution region. The village appears prosperous. Some of the houses are palatial. Bullock-drawn ploughs are passe here. But Reddy Ranga Rao committed suicide on May 23 by consuming pesticide.
Reddy Ranga Rao started cultivation by growing paddy. Two years later he attempted to grow sugarcane. He suffered severe losses as rodents destroyed the entire crop. His wife, Ramalakshmi (40), said that the failure of the crop was disastrous because sugarcane needed more investment than paddy. "The loss we suffered then continues to burden us now in the form of outstanding loans," she said.
Although he shifted back to paddy cultivation, he never recovered from the setback, which led to mounting debts. Ramalakshmi said the last rabi season yielded only 15 bags of paddy, compared to the normal yield of 25 bags an acre (each bag of 75 kg). The rent for the land was 30 bags an acre (for two seasons). Ramalakshmi said that the decline in output was mainly because Reddy Ranga Rao could not buy pesticides and fertilizers in adequate quantity and at the appropriate time. Reddy Ranga Rao not only had to contend with a poor crop but also had to manage the daunting task of procuring paddy to pay the rent.
Both husband and wife were agricultural workers before they were married. "We took the lease only because we thought that cultivation would be better than agricultural work," said Ramalakshmi. Moreover, the fact that very little employment was available during the rainy season prompted them to lease the land from an influential family in Thanaku, which owns a rice mill in the town. A middleman in the village fixed the "deal". Ramalakshmi said the landlord lent money for inputs such as seeds, pesticides and fertilizers. The family also used to borrow from moneylenders.
Ramalakshmi said the family never really recovered from the "sugarcane shock" it received five years ago. Reddy Ranga Rao borrowed Rs.50,000 before the last kharif season. Part of the money was meant to repay existing debts and the remaining was to be invested in the crop. Part of the Rs.50,000 came from the rice mill owner, but substantial amounts were also drawn from an "iron shop" owner and a worker who had headed for Singapore. The interest on the loans was 24 per cent. At the time of his death Reddy Ranga Rao owed Rs.15,000 to the rice miller, about Rs.60,000 to various moneylenders, and 60 bags of paddy to the landlord.
The landlord cancelled the lease after his death. Reddy Ranga Rao used to work as a servant in a landlord's house when he was a boy of about 15. He was paid about 25 bags of paddy annually as wages. He performed various tasks for the landlord, which included grazing cattle and doing household work. His wife said that he "managed' to quit this work and became an agricultural worker. "Life as an agricultural worker did not seem risk-laden when we leased land for cultivation," said Ramalakshmi.
Ten days before he committed suicide, Reddy Ranga Rao told his wife that "he had no hope of a good crop". On May 19 he returned home late, sat on the cot, played with his nine-month-old granddaughter and then complained of uneasiness. He was taken to a private hospital in Thanaku and, after three days there, was taken to the government hospital.
Reddy Ranga Rao died on May 23. The Mandal Revenue Officer visited the family on May 23 and the Joint Collector the following day. Ramalakshmi said they expressed their sympathies but did not promise anything. But the moneylenders came immediately after his death and asked for the repayment of loans. She promised them that she would pay them if she received any assistance from the government. Significantly, Ramalakshmi said that the frequency of the visits by the moneylenders had come down noticeably in the weeks before the elections. But she said the visits became more frequent after the elections, although they were not unduly aggressive. Ramalakshmi said that she did not know whether the moneylenders came more often after the elections because they feared that the new government would waive the loans of farmers. She said: "I do not know tenancy laws, but I wish there is some way out of the mooza vani kowlu system (oral tenancy, one in which the tenant has no registered rights to the land that he/she is cultivating)."