Friday, April 11, 2008

Farmer suicides spark political row in Kerala

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, April 10: Deaths of farmers and failure by the state government to procure damaged paddy crops have sparked a he-said-she-said clash between the Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) in Kerala. Three debt-ridden farmers from Kuttanad ended their lives during the past two weeks and one of the dead, Gopinathan, is yet to be officially recognised as a farmer suicide.
UDF led by Opposition leader Mr Oommen Chandy has claimed that Gopinathan’s death is a case of farmer suicide and demanded that the state government announce compensation. The LDF government has been reluctant to acknowledge his death but is yet to convene the district-level official committee (headed by the district collector) to decide if Gopinathan’s death can be treated as a farmer suicide. According to UDF sources it is because Gopinathan had changed party allegiance. However, when Pushkaran, a former branch secretary of the CPI-M, carrying a debt burden of around Rs 1.5 lakh, ended his life after consuming pesticide, agriculture minister Mr Mullakkara Ratnakaran paid a personal visit to his family. Pushkaran, like most other farmers from Kuttanad region had also “applied” to the Kerala State Karshaka Thozhilali Union (farm labour wing of the CPI-M) to use a combine harvester, which fell on deaf ears. Mr Chandy accused the KSKTU of functioning as a parallel government. “The paddy harvest crisis in Kuttanad is in fact a man-made crisis and not a natural calamity,” he said.
Mr Chandy also accused the state government of not taking seriously the visit of the Central team that came here to study the crop loss. Coir and cooperation minister Mr G Sudhakaran, turned the tables on UDF and the UPA government and said he did not accompany the Central team to the paddy fields this time because many such visits in the past have yielded no monetary benefit.
“The state spent around 60 lakh rupees on conveyance and five-star hotel accommodations at Kumarakom when a Central team paid a visit last time to assess the damage. In fact I wanted to tell them, please don’t visit. We have no rice to feed you,” he said.

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