Bengaluru: The spate of suicides by farmers across Karnataka since July is haunting Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.
"Our farmers are in distress these days. Continuance of farmers` suicide has subdued my spirit to enjoy the Independence Day celebrations," Siddaramaiah said in his address to the people of his state here on Saturday.
Admitting that this development during the last two months caused much agony and pain to him, the chief minister said the suicides were happening despite the best efforts of his government to bail out the farmers.
"The number of farmers committing suicide has suddenly gone up to 182 in July as against 39 from April to June and 48 in 2014 and 58 in 2013," he lamented, after unfurling the Tricolour at the Manekshaw parade ground here amid tight security.
Noting that the state government was ascertaining the root cause behind the suicides so as to take corrective measures, Siddaramaiah said that as the problems faced by the farmers were huge, the Centre had to help the state, rising above party affiliations.
"Though we have initiated steps to mitigate miseries of farmers, suicides are occurring due to factors beyond our control. As the state government alone cannot address their problems, the union government needs to lend a helping hand," he said.
Observing that most of the farmers were committing suicide due to their inability to repay loans taken from money lenders and private financial institutions as per preliminary reports, the chief minister said he has directed his officials to take stringent action against unscrupulous money lenders.
"We have instructed banks to increase the loan limit for the farm sector and to small and medium farmers to prevent them from going to money lenders. I have also deputed officers concerned to counsel farmers against committing suicide," Siddaramaiah said in his 30-minute speech, after inspecting the guard of honour and receiving the salute from contingents of the services and police.
The state government paid Rs.204 crore to farmers in nine districts whose crops suffered damage in the last fiscal (2014-15) and Rs.66 crore in April of this fiscal (2015-16) as compensation to farmers, as unseasonal rains and hailstorm in February-March affected the rabi crop.
In view of the debt burden forcing farmers to take their lives, the state government is offering interest-free loans from banks and cooperative societies.
In the last fiscal (FY 2015), Rs.9,216 crore interest-free short-term loans were given to 21 lakh farmers, and medium to long-term farm loans from Rs.3-10 lakh at 3 percent per annum to other farmers.
"This fiscal (2015-16), we are providing Rs.9,896 crore interest free loans to 21 lakh farmers and an additional Rs.737 crore under the interest subsidy scheme for raising crops," the chief minister said.
Failure to get a fair price for their produce is the main reason for farmers` suffering. A vicious cycle of middlemen needs to be broken by switching over to e-marketing.
"We are for transparency in the sale of agriculture produce, remunerative price through healthy competition and marketing facility at doorsteps of farmers," the chief minister added.
Earlier, a military helicopter hovered over the sprawling ground showering red rose petals around the podium, evoking thunderous applause from the gathering.
Battalions of the three services, state reserve police, home guards, NCC and Bharat Scouts and Guides, contingents of about 3,000 boys and girls from city schools and music bands treated the audience to an impressive march past and historical and cultural shows, even as patriotic songs rent the air.
Martial arts and daring feats and acrobatics on motorcycles by the military as well as the state police teams kept the crowds spellbound.