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Cyclone Gaja leaves farmers distraught, suicidal

G Jagannath

Cyclone Gaja leaves farmers distraught, suicidal
PTI Photo

Two weeks after Cyclone Gaja made its landfall in Nagapattinam district, Tamil Nadu has been witnessing a spate of farmers suicides and shock deaths after seeing their crops destroyed in the cyclone. On Sunday, a sugarcane farmer in Thanjavur district killed himself by consuming poison taking total death toll to nine including six suicides and three shock deaths.

Samikannu, a sugarcane farmer, from Thanjavur committed suicide by consuming poison on Sunday due to depression over losing all his crop. "He was dejected over the loss of sugarcane which would be ready for harvest in a month's time. He had taken a loan of Rs 16 lakh from private money lenders and was hoping to repay it from the sugarcane harvest but it was completely damaged in the cyclone leaving with no option pay back the loan," said his relative.

Cauvery Delta districts of Tamil Nadu is prone to natural vagaries but Gaja caused an unimaginable destruction on its path consuming 64 lives and uprooting over 10 million trees on November 14. Though natural calamities have struck the delta districts in the past, this was the first time the farmers, particularly, coconut, sugarcane and casuarina growers have suffered such irreparable losses leading to their suicides and shock deaths, said P Shanmugham, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Farmers Association.

V Thiruselvam, 45, was a big farmer owning 63 acres of agricultural land in Pudukottai district of Tamil Nadu cultivating coconut, jack fruits and paddy but shattered by loss of all the crops in the Cyclone Gaja he consumed pesticide he bought for his paddy crops to end his life.

"My father was very depressed over the loss of all the crops in our 63 acres of land including coconut trees, Casuarina grove and jack fruit trees. Since the cyclone made its landfall, he has been complaining to everyone about the destruction and how he had lost everything. But we never thought he will take an extreme step to end his life," Thiruselvan's son Sushmithan told DNA.

Sushmithan, eldest of Thiruselvan's four children said his father was upset as he had planned to get his sister married from the earning from the sale of casuarina trees. "A ton of casuarina trees was selling at Rs 8000 before the cyclone. Now the prices have fallen to Rs 3000 per ton. Besides, all the coconut trees had been uprooted in the strong winds. We normally get the bank loans based on the coconut trees and now nothing is there. He was very upset about it," he said.

In all, Thiruselvam's family had lost Rs 1.5 crore worth of crops in the cyclone. "We have to spend at least Rs 5 lakh to clear the fallen trees in our land. We don't know how we are going to do it," Sushmithan, an engineering graduate who works in a petroleum company in Chennai's Manali.

Of the six farmers committed suicide, two were coconut farmers, two plantain farmers and a sugarcane farmers.

The first farmer to end his life was N Selvaraj of Melakondayampettai in Trichy district on November 21. He ended his life by jumping in front of a moving train at Srirangam, as the cyclone destroyed his banana plants on a two-acre lease land.

Next day, Sunderrajan, a 55-year-old coconut farmer in Thanjavur district committed suicide by consuming pesticide saddened by the loss of his coconut trees in cyclone Gaja. Police said that the farmer had lost 400 coconut trees on his five-acre land.

Shanmugham said that damages to the long term crops like coconut trees and Jack fruits were unheard off in the delta districts. "Farmers were taking extreme steps as they come to a conclusion that they could not never recover from the losses with the meagre compensation announced by the government," he said, adding that the government has announced compensation of Rs 1100 per coconut tree including cutting charge of Rs 500 and limiting compensation to five acres of land. "Some farmers also find themselves in an awkward situation as they could not supply coconuts to the traders from whom they had taken advances. Many have to repay their debts," he said, adding that the government should enhance the compensation for the long terms crops in particular coconut to Rs 20,000 per uprooted tree and it would help them revive their lives.

(This report was first published by DNA)