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Last Updated: Friday, 21 May, 2004, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Plea to suicidal Indian farmers
By Omer Farooq
BBC correspondent in Hyderabad

YS Rajashekhar Reddy signs a document to grant free electricity to the poor
Reddy has already announced free electricity for the poor
The new Congress chief minister of India's southern Andhra Pradesh state has issued a fresh plea to debt-ridden farmers not to commit suicide.

The appeal follows reports of 14 more cases in the past week.

The rise in cases came despite YS Rajashekhar Reddy's announcement of a relief package for families of farmers who have committed suicide.

In elections this month, Mr Reddy beat Chandrababu Naidu whom Congress accused of ignoring the needs of the poor.

Devastated

Mr Reddy says nearly 3,000 farmers in the state have committed suicide over the past six years.

His relief package will cover families of all the farmers who have taken their own lives since 1999.

A total of 50,000 rupees ($1,100) will be provided for the one-time settlement of debts and another 100,000 rupees will be given for the economic rehabilitation of the family.

Prayer meeting in Hyderabad
Prayers have been said for an end to drought

However, analysts say officials are apprehensive that the relief package may be proving counter-productive - spurring more debt-ridden farmers to commit suicide.

Mr Reddy said his government would look into the possibility but stressed his measures would also cover farmers who were considering suicide.

On Friday he brought before journalists a farmer who said he was devastated by droughts.

The chief minister said the farmer would soon be given financial help.

Congress came to power after crushing Mr Naidu's Telugu Desam Party.

Mr Naidu was regarded as an IT guru who turned the state capital, Hyderabad, into a cyber centre.

But Congress concentrated on the poor farming community, plagued by droughts and subsequent debts.

Mr Reddy has already announced the free supply of electricity to small farmers and poor families.


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