Lives on lease

Print edition : February 03, 2017

Asaithambi, with the photograph of his son Arvind who killed himself at Kulimathur village in Thanjavur district. Asaithambi has taken land on lease. Photo: B. Velankanni Raj

AT least 102 farmers across Tamil Nadu are said to have committed suicide or died of heart attack because of crop failure. All were marginal farmers or agricultural labourers who had taken three or four acres on lease after paying Rs.10,000 to Rs.20,000 an acre. They had spent more money to buy fertilizer, for sowing and to pay for additional labour. When the crop failed because of a highly deficient north-east monsoon, it was the end of the road for them. There was no way they could have got back the money they had invested in sowing the crop, which had withered.

Worse, most of these marginal farmers had pledged jewellery or borrowed money from moneylenders at usurious interest rates.

They had lost money heavily in the previous years too for the “kuruvai” paddy crop, which had failed for five successive years from 2011. Personal tragedies like the death of a child or the upkeep of a physically disabled or a mentally unstable child drained the rest of what life offered them. In such circumstances, it is not surprising for depression to creep in. Most farmers took their lives by consuming pesticides that were available with them. Some just collapsed in their fields on seeing that their crop was stunted or had withered.

Interactions with the families of victims revealed that there were different kinds of lease agreements. If the land was to be leased for a big amount, the lessor would return the money to the farmer. Whenever the money was returned, say after two to four years, the lessee had to give the land back to the lessor. So the lessee could cultivate the land until the lessor returned the money.

A generally prevalent lease agreement is for a year, from the Tamil new year of Chithirai month (April). The lessee had to return the land to the lessor at the end of a year irrespective of whether he had earned money or not from the land. A third type of agreement, an old one, is for the lessee to provide a certain quantity of paddy to the lessor every year for the period of the lease. No money transaction is involved in this.

T.S. Subramanian

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