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Punjab News Express | March 16, 2019 12:06 PM

Punjab News Express
HYDERABAD: Not satisfied with her cozy job at a corporate hospital here, a psychologist joined a team that is helping to prevent farmers' suicides in parts of Telangana.

Shruti Naik wanted to explore the area of rural distress and found the task more challenging.

Her experience in three districts of Telangana that reported the highest cases of farmers' suicides in the country has helped her understand the problem.

"I realized how severe the problem is and how misconceptions get propagated in the outside world," Naik told IANS at the office of the 'Kisan Mitra' helpline at Tarnaka here.

"The farmers are victims of circumstances, economic disparity and farm related issues. With no way to repay their loans, they suffer harassment at the hands of private money lenders and banks and the constant worry of how will I repay debts and manage my family haunts them."

Kisan Mitra, run by Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, an NGO, provides last mile delivery of services to farmers with respect to their entitlements. It serves as a bridge between government and farmers and tries to see that issues faced by farmers are resolved which otherwise would make them to go into distress.

It was started in 2017 in Vikarabad district at the initiative of then District Collector Divya Devarajan, who suggested that the NGO should take up the matter.

However, they realized that it was not just the helpline which was required.

"Sometimes, farmers in distress may not approach us as seeking help is considered a stigma. Then we decided to have field teams who would speak to farmers," she said.

The helpline expanded its activity to Adilabad, a backward district bordering Maharashtra, after Devarajan was transferred there as the Collector. Subsequently, it also began its activities in Mancherial district.

"We have so far received 8,000 calls relating to problems like land issues, crop related, payments, loans and banker-related issues. We tried to resolve 4,000 cases. Not all were in distress. The idea is to solve problems before they go into distress," said Naik.

She heads a team of seven members, all women. The counselors who receive the calls take down the details of the farmers and forward them to the respective field-level coordinators for follow-up.

It is also working with the government to rehabilitate the families of farmers who committed suicide. On International Women's Day last year in Adilabad district, it called a meeting of 120 widows and their families. They were provided alternative livelihood with the government's support.

The problems of tenant farmers is a huge issue in Telangana. They are not covered under the 'Rythu Bandhu' scheme being implemented by the state government to provide investment support of Rs 8,000 per acre per year.

Studies show that 75 per cent of farmers who commit suicide in Telangana are tenant farmers. Kisan Mitra has helped 5,000 tenant farmers in Adilabad obtain loan eligibility cards. It negotiated with some bankers to form joint liability groups with 4-5 in each group. The groups were provided loans of Rs 1 lakh each.

Naik believes depression among farmers is a consequence of circumstances and farm and finance related issues. "If they get some handholding they will do well. If they are helped in areas like minimum support price and if there is some awareness created about debt management, they will not resort to suicides," she said.

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