The rise in farmers' suicides today evoked sharp reaction from the Supreme Court which said the government's welfare schemes should not remain on paper and compensation was no solution to deal with the problem of rural indebtedness.
Recognising that the burning issue "cannot be dealt overnight", it, however, gave a thumbs up to the welfare schemes and allowed the government's plea for grant of a year's time to show effective results.
At the outset, a bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud said "paying compensation is not the solution at all to deal with farmers' suicides" as the key reason for these suicides was indebtedness and their inability to pay back the loans.
It said there was a need to "soften" and "minimise" the bad effects of loans and one of the ways could be to grant insurance cover on their debts.
The bench also said "we are of the view that the issue of farmers' suicide cannot be dealt with overnight. It is justified on behalf of the Attorney General to seek time for effective results of various schemes."
Newly-appointed Attorney General K K Venugopal referred to various schemes and said multi-pronged attempts were being made to ameliorate their plight and out of around 12 crore farmers, 5.34 crore farmers have already been covered under various welfare schemes, including the Fasal Bima Yojana.
Venugopal said that almost 30 per cent farm land has also been covered under the crop insurance scheme and the figure will substantially rise by the end of 2018.
The court, however, said that nobody was saying anything against the policies, but "tell us as to how you are expediting the implementation of your schemes".
"Consensus is that you are on the right track. Whatever is required to be done is being done, but on paper. We want you to go beyond that," the bench said.
The court was monitoring the case as it wanted to keep itself in the loop about the developments in this regard as instances of suicides "are rising".
The Attorney General, who kept asking for more time to exhibit the positive results of the schemes, once said the NGO Citizens Resource and Action Initiative (CRANTI), which has filed the PIL, "is asking the court to take over the government".
"Wait for sometime. Wait for one year. Just take the data on the number of suicides earlier and the number of suicides now," Venugopal said.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the NGO, contended that over 3,000 farmers have committed suicide and the government should address all the real issues and implement a proper policy.
He also referred to the recent suicides committed by farmers in Madhya Pradesh and said they were forced to sell onions Rs one per kg and the minimum support price was fixed by the state government only after such incidents.
The court then granted time to the Centre and fixed the PIL filed by the NGO for hearing after six months.
The bench, meanwhile, asked the Centre to consider the suggestions of Gonsalves in formulating measures to deal with the issue of farmer suicides.
The bench was hearing the PIL raising the issue of farmer suicides in Gujarat, which was later expanded pan-India by the Supreme Court.
Earlier, the court had asked the Centre to respond to suggestions including upward revision of the minimum support price (MSP) for foodgrains, given by the NGO, to ameliorate the plight of farmers who were being forced to commit suicide.
The bench, however, had said that agriculture was a state subject and it was up to the state governments also to adopt welfare measures and the Centre cannot unilaterally take decisions.
The NGO, in its submissions, has sought directions on issues including implementation of recommendations of the Prof Ramesh Chand Committee Report which has suggested enhancement of MSP by computing the time spent by a farmer in agricultural activities on the basis of skilled wage rate and calculating land rent as the prevailing rent or the actual reported, without any ceiling.
On the issue of crop insurance, the NGO sought improvement and implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna to ensure crop insurance of nine crore agricultural households as against 20 per cent of the farmers covered as on date.
It has also sought immediate steps to reduce rural indebtedness which stood at 45.9 per cent in 2013 as well as the intensification of debt burden which rose from 1.61 in 1992 to 2.46 in 2013 by sharply reducing the outstanding debt from money lenders which stood at 29.6 per cent in 2013.
Prior to this, the apex court had said farmers committing suicide in the country was a serious issue and the Centre should deal with the real issues which forced them to take the extreme step.
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