Debt and Death in Rural India
– The Punjab Story –
Authors: Aman Sidhu & Inderjit Singh Jaijee
Publishers: Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd
Pages: 335; Price: Rs 750
The book Debt and Death in Rural India – The Punjab Story is jointly penned by the Late Ms Aman Sidhu and S Inderjit Singh Jaijee, a veteran human rightist presenting the frustrating situation of the Punjabi farmers, especially of small holdings. The book explores how these farmers are writhing in the mud of heavy debts and when unable to repay, they take to suicide. Aman Sidhu, a Ph.D. scholar selected this subject and took it as her research thesis. She started the research on rural suicides in Lehra and Andana blocks of Moonak subdivision of District Sangrur. Unfortunately, Aman Sidhu died in a tragic road accident in 2006. Her Ph.D. was incomplete, but the work done by her was compiled by his revered father, Sardar Inderjit Singh Jaijee and gave it a comprehensive book shape.
The authors in the opening chapters of the book specify in the introduction how a rich state like Punjab is being exploited by the Centre. The resources like river-water, hydro-electric powers etc., which play a major role in the growth of any state, are misused. The problem of the river-water has vividly been explained. As per Indus Treaty signed by India, it is laid down that surplus waters are not to flow into Pakistan and that the waters of Ravi, Beas and Sutlej available to it, are in excess of its requirement. It is clear that Punjab Rivers are not inter-state rivers and, according to the riparian law, other states cannot claim any right. Authors state that the injustice done to the Punjab has caused scarcity which has drastically reduced water supplies in the areas prone to the farmers’ suicide cases. Due to the green revolution Punjab becomes No 1 state in India to produce wheat as Punjab and Haryana contribute approximately 67 percent of all wheat procured in India and it is rightly called the “grain bowl of India”, but Punjab has always suffered from unrealistically low government Minimum Support Prices and high input costs. Authors also discussed the problems like restriction on trade, land ceiling, lack of direct subsidies to farmers etc.
The second chapter is dealing with the geographical conditions of Punjab. Authors explain that Punjab, before the partition, was mainly a princely state with its total area about 5,50,425 square kms, but the dividing lines drawn by the politicians or anti-Punjab elements have cut it into pieces resulting the province becoming a tiny state of 50,000 skm of the country. This chapter provides detailed information of Regions within Punjab, its rivers, forests, drainage and irrigation system.
Third chapter of the book deals with the major castes residing in the Moonak and Lehra subdivision of the district Sangrur. The fourth chapter is dealing with the dispute over Punjab’s river waters. Punjab in essence has no surplus water to release. While 17.17 million acre feet (MAF) was earlier believed to have been available in Ravi-Beas systems, as a result, the transfer of water to Haryana would affect 9 lakh acres of irrigated land in many districts of Majha area of Punjab. The recharge of Punjab's depleted groundwater resources would also be hit hard. Release of waters through the SYL canal is contingent on other components of the Rajiv Gandhi-Longowal accord, including handing over of Chandigarh to Punjab and the transfer of Punjabi speaking areas of Haryana to Punjab. Finally Punjab claims that Haryana has no claims to the waters of rivers that do not flow through its territory as per riparian law. A recent study has produced evidence that large tracts of land in the state are being irrigated with poor quality water. It forewarns against the continuous use of such water as it will lead to a drop in the crop yield – the biggest source of income and the backbone of the economy in the ‘granary of India’.
The Chapter “Demand for Federalism” has explained how in the very first decade following independence, the central government began to overshadow the states and negating their powers, whereas the constitution of India intended that states and central government to be bound in a federal system.
According to the authors, “Anandpur Sahib Resolution” used a compromise formula to accommodate the demand of a ‘self determined political status for the Sikhs in the united India’ raised by Master Tara Singh group. It was also in consonance with the demand for more autonomy, put forward by several non-Hindi speaking states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and others who had suffered on account of dominance of Hindi. This was also in keeping with the proclaimed aims, objectives and assurances by the founding fathers of the Constitution.”
The chapter ‘Punjab versus the Central Government Steamroller” contains details of the contribution made by the Punjabis especially Sikhs in the freedom struggle of India. Besides this, the authors have quoted I.K Gujral, former Prime Minister’s quotation regarding the discrimination against Punjab on the economic front as “… Punjab has been a victim of two myths: one, as Indira Gandhi put it, ‘it is an advanced and prosperous state’… and two, ‘that the people of Punjab are well above the poverty line since it’s per capita income is the highest in the country’. The facts given in the book highlight the Center’s intention to work against the Punjab prosperity. Dr I K Gujral stated in ‘The Economic Dimension edited by Amrik Singh that “During my brief tenure as a Minister in Planning Ministry in 1976, five additional mills (Sugar) had been sanctioned. Subsequently after my departure for Moscow, these were re-allocated to some adjoining states.’ It is true that the farming community calling for better government policies for their benefit but tussle between Centre and State Governments over sharing the powers debars the farmer community from receiving adequate help.
The economic distress of farmers is reflected in present suicide phenomenon. What can be said about repaying of debts when their incomes were not even sufficient for meeting subsistence expenditure? According to the authors, even after supplementing the net income from milk and sale of by-products such as straw (say Rs 1000/-), the maximum that the farmers in the country’s well-endowed areas can earn around Rs 3,000/- a month. This is when one is assuming that there are no crop losses due to natural calamities. Three-fourth of Indian farmers take home less than Rs 3,000/- a month, a figure that is roughly 60 percent of the starting salary for a government office attendant. According to the National Sample Survey (NSS) data (2003) the average total income of farm households from 2 hectares was less than 80 percent of their consumption expenditure.
This book is a comprehensive rendition to explain the position of the Punjabi farmers. Many heart rending episodes of the farmer's families have been given in this book. The facts given in the book are authentic as taken from the Government records. Basically the book highlights the basic problems of the farmers which take them for a dreadful step like suicide. The data collected by the Movement against Sikh Repression (MASR) of farmers’ suicides cover the period of 1988 to 2008. Another astounding fact which is quoted is the unsuccessful suicide attempts which go unreported. To make the suicide cases authentic, the authors adopted the methodology of getting the affidavits by the Gram Panchayats. It is explained how agriculture land divided among the brothers and the less cultivated land, low income, costly livelihood, willfulness of the Arthias towards the farmers, take them to the way of ending their life. The book also contains the study of PAU of farmers’ suicide case. A comparison between the data collected by PAU and MSAR is also produced in the book. Various schemes run by the central government for the benefit of the farmers are also mentioned in the book. A meager sum of Rs 2 lacs has been provided by the Government for the victims’ families.
In totality, the book provides complete information of the agrarian sector of Punjab and some suggestions have also been given for amelioration of the menace.
The survival strategies adopted by the Jaijee family based on the Guru Nanak’s Kirit Karo, Wand Chakko, Naam Japo, not only gives financial assistance to the victim families but also runs Baba Nanak Educational Society for the taking care of the children of these families. The rescue and revival mission is a non-partisan, non-sectarian, providing humanitarian assistance in rural Punjab to next of kin of suicide victims. The book provides a truthful position of farming community to the government, NGOs and philanthropists who are willing to come to the rescue of the victims. The publisher should have produce the Punjabi version of the book for the benefit of those for whom the book has been written. The book is printed on a good quality paper and has abeautifully hard cover binding.
ęCopyright Institute of Sikh Studies, 2012, All