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56 Farmer Suicides In Just 3 Months. What’s Punjab Govt. Doing?

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By Aman Thind:

A Sikh farmer walks through a parched paddy field carrying fodder for his animals in the village of Morinda in India's northern state of Punjab, August 3, 2002. Rainfall across India was 30 percent lower than normal during the first two months of the monsoon season, causing the country's worst drought in a decade, [farm minister Ajit Singh said on Thursday.] - RTXLGMC
Source: Reuters
On Tuesday, April 26, The Centre shared the statistics of farmer suicides in 2016 so far revealing a grim picture of an issue that has remained unchanged since 2014. As per the report, 116 farmers have ended their lives across India in the first three months of this year. Punjab is second on the list, with 56 suicides, after Maharashtra.

In another tragic news, reported a couple of days back, a young farmer Baljeet Singh, 32 and his mother Balveer Kaur, 60 consumed pesticides and ended their lives as they were unable to pay back a loan of just Rs. 1.10 Lakh that they took back in 2002 by mortgaging their small piece of land and house. All of this happened while district officials and a loan commission agent were at their home trying to evict them out of their property.

When the situation concerning agriculture is so bad, one would expect the state government and the state machinery to devise policies and measures to figure out a solution to the problem. On the contrary, a major food grain scam has come to light over the last few days in Punjab after an audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG), revealed a total lack of empathy on part of the Punjab government towards its farmers and their livelihood.

A consortium of top Indian banks, led by the State Bank of India (SBI) lent a sum of Rs. 20,000 crores to the Punjab government for procurement of food grains from the farmers. But as per the recent audit by CAG, stocks worth Rs. 12,000 crores have gone missing from the state FCI godowns. While the Punjab government contests that they did use the money to buy the grains, there are no records of the said stock. Moreover, an investigation by NDTV found that registration numbers of the trucks used for transporting the grains from the market to the godowns were fake or made-up. As many as 3,000 trucks mentioned in the records either don’t exist or in some cases, registration numbers of two wheelers have been cited.

Punjab government, which is on a defensive after the allegations, even admitted to diverting funds appropriating to nearly Rs. 900 crores to another state government scheme (the ‘atta-dal’ scheme for providing food grains for free to the poor). This practice is illegal as loan money meant for one purpose cannot be used for anything else but the said purpose.

As a fallout, the SBI led consortium, after a meeting in New Delhi, decided to stop lending to the state government until the issue was resolved. Although the RBI has directed banks to declare the loan as NPA (non-performing assets), banks are worried about recovering previous loans amounting to Rs. 40,000 crores to the Punjab government.

Not surprisingly, in the wake of the upcoming assembly elections, this issue has already created a political storm in the state which is expected to escalate further in the coming days. Congress, the major opposition party in the state, declared on Tuesday that it would file a criminal case against the Badal government for ‘theft’ of Rs. 12,000 crores worth of food grain.

“If the ED can pursue a case against Vijay Mallya for diverting Rs. 430 crore of the Rs. 900 crore bank loan to acquire properties abroad, the Centre should also act against the Punjab government for diverting Rs. 900 crore of procurement money for the Atta- Dal scheme”, said party spokesperson Sunil Jakhar, an MLA from Abohar.

The other upcoming political force in Punjab, the Aam Aadmi Party has made similar demands and accusations into the matter and together with Congress demanded a court-monitored audit by CAG into the procurement process.

As per the CAG report, the last audit happened six years ago, which means this scam could have been going on for the past few years turning out to be a major contributor to the current situation of agriculture in the state.

The report presented by the Central government in the Parliament states that one of the major reasons for the farmers committing suicides was the delay in payment for their produce. Though the Centre did its part by helping the state government secure the said loans, it’s a complete failure on the part of the state machinery which willfully siphoned off vast sums of money meant for the farmers. This points towards a possible correlation between the missing funds, the late payments to farmers and subsequently, the resulting suicides.

The resulting chaos also brings up the financial black hole that the state is heading towards. As per a report by India Ratings, “The financial situation of Punjab, particularly with respect to liquidity, has remained quite precarious over the past few years. The situation has deteriorated considerably now,” the agency said in a note last week. The situation is so grave that the state government has mortgaged several of its assets such as ashrams and even jails to raise money to pay salaries to its employees.

While farmers and their families are killing themselves over meager sums of money amounting to a few lakhs the shameless political elite of the state have gorged up funds worth thousands of crores (ironically meant to help the same farmers) and are yet out of the purview of any law which could hold them accountable for their acts. However, as the elections are just around the corner, those in power must remember that sometimes justice is delivered in the form of the ballot instead of courtrooms.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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