By Ekta Handa:
A group of farmers from Tamil Nadu, belonging to the areas in and around Trichy, Karur and Thanjavur, have been sitting in a protest at Jantar Mantar since March 14, 2017.
Their key demands include a better drought-relief package for Tamil Nadu’s farmers, since the relief package announced by the government barely covers their losses. After incurring heavy losses as a result of the recent drought (which was officially declared on January 10, 2017), they are finding it difficult to provide even the bare essentials for their families and their own selves. The protesters all belong to the Desiya Thenidhiya Nathigal Inaippu Vivasayigal Sangam, a farmers’ organisation.
As a sign of protest, the farmers, all dressed in green lungis and petticoats, carried dug-up skulls of fellow farmers who have committed suicide due to the drought. Initially, they had tried to move towards the Prime Minister’s residence. However, they were removed by the authorities and taken to Jantar Mantar, instead.
Iyyakannu, the Tamil Nadu chief of the Desiya Thenidhiya Nathigal Inaippu Vivasayigal Sangam, stated that about 400 farmers have died since the onset of the drought. According to Iyyakannu, the relief provided to farmers is insufficient to cover the losses.
While sitting in a hunger strike, one of the farmers also attempted to hang himself on a tree at Jantar Mantar road, but was stopped by the police. On the second day of the protest, two of the protesters fainted.
The police officials have somehow managed to convince the farmers to consume food. The leaders of the group were also allowed to meet government officials.
The January 2017 drought in Tamil Nadu is its worst in over 140 years. The National Human Rights Commission sent a notice to the Tamil Nadu government in January 2017. The notice says – “The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports regarding the deaths of 106 farmers during a period of one month in Tamil Nadu which it considers as a matter of concern.”
Meanwhile, the Madras High Court also directed the government to file an affidavit within four weeks regarding the steps taken to prevent farmer suicides in the state.
A month after the NHRC report and the Madras High Court’s notice, chief minister Edappadi Palaniswami sanctioned the release of a ₹2,247 crore package for drought-hit farmers. According to media reports, farmers who depend on irrigation for cropping were supposed to get ₹5,465 per acre. On the other hand, those who depend on seasonal rain would get ₹3,000 per acre.
The issue was taken up in the Rajya Sabha on March 10, 2017 by Radha Mohan Singh, the Minister of Agriculture in India. He promised that ‘substantial financial assistance’ would be given to drought-hit farmers in Tamil Nadu.
In pictures, scenes from the protest venue in Delhi: