A politician's `perception'

Published : Jul 02, 2004 00:00 IST

CHANDRU Srinivasan (39), a tenant farmer of Relangi village under Eragavaram mandal in West Godavari district, committed suicide on May 24 by consuming pesticide. He and his two brothers had inherited about 0.4 acres from their father. His bother Durga Rao sold his share of land and migrated to Raichur district in Karnataka where he leased 20 acres (eight hectares) to cultivate paddy. Durga Rao moved away from the village because the "rents were too high to make farming a viable livelihood".

Chandru took five acres on lease in this fertile area. Last year he leased three more acres and grew paddy, but the crop was washed away in heavy rain. Last year's kharif crop yielded 20-22 bags (of 75 kg each) and rabi 30 bags but he had to pay his landlord a rent of 26-28 bags an acre for both crops. Durga Rao told Frontline that the rents were so high that his brother's debts piled up to Rs.1.7 lakhs by June 2003. Most of the money was borrowed from moneylenders, paddy commission agents and rice millers. Although the sharp increase in input costs added to his burden, the real problem was the high rents charged by the absentee landlords.

According to Chandru's widow Venkatalakshmi (35), the lease has been cancelled. With three young daughters - all of school-going age - she said her life was at a crossroads. "The pressure from the lenders was not as severe as the pressure we face following my husband's death," she said.

Just as this correspondent stepped out of the bereaved family's house, he saw Sriranganatha Raju, who had been elected to the Legislative Assembly from Attili constituency (in which Relangi falls), coming in a victory procession. Asked about the suicide deaths by peasants in the area, the Congress MLA said: "There is no problem here, the land is fertile and water is available at a depth of 30 feet." Pressed further, he said the "debt problem" was only because "people are living beyond their means". On the high rents charged, he said: "This is because of competition for land. It is natural that the rents will be high if people compete for land."

Sriranganatha Raju is a leading rice miller and president of the West Godavari Rice Millers Association. "Suicide deaths in the village are not because of any agricultural crisis. They are happening now perhaps because of the package announced by the government," he said.

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