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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 10:08 GMT 11:08 UK
India PM pledge over suicide farmers
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Manmohan Singh is expected to announce compensation
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has promised assistance to families of farmers who have committed suicide in southern India.

Mr Singh is visiting Andhra Pradesh, where nearly 3000 farmers have taken their lives because of crippling debt.

The prime minister's visit is his first since taking office in May.

It comes a week before his newly elected Congress government presents its first federal budget, which is expected to be pro-farmer.

Correspondents say Mr Singh's visit is aimed at showing his government's commitment to poor Indian farmers, who had felt largely excluded from the economic reforms of the previous government.

Distress and havoc

The prime minister announced a federal compensation of 50,000 rupees ($1,136) to each family where a farmer had committed suicide.

This is in addition to the 150,000 rupees ($3,400) compensation announced by the state government to every affected family.

In his meetings with villagers, Mr Singh said he would ensure that banks provide assistance to the families, and one member of every family gets a job.

If farmers are committing suicides in such a large number, it is a sad situation
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Mr Singh met residents of Somayjulapalle village, where at least 53 farmers have taken their lives in the past six years after failing to pay off loans.

The BBC's Omer Farooq reports that the village is a picture of distress and havoc caused by a five-year-long drought.

"I also come from a farmer's family and I have some idea of the suffering and difficulties of the farmers," Mr Singh told the villagers.

"But after what I have seen and heard here today, I have come to know the extent of the sufferings and losses of the farmers for the first time."

Mr Singh announced a special assistance package for the village to build irrigation tanks, provide piped water, build high schools and improve roads.

Suffering for long

Farmers have been taking their lives in Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring Karnataka state after failing to repay high-interest loans from private money lenders.

Analysts say the spate of suicides points to the complete collapse of cheap and affordable government credit to farmers.

There are 11 million farmers in the Andhra Pradesh
90% of them are small farmers
The state has been suffering from drought since 2001
70% of the state's 78 million people are dependent on agriculture
Though overall interest rates have dropped in India, banks are hesitant to offer cheap credit to farmers, fearing defaults.

"A rich man can buy a Mercedes Benz at 4% interest rate, but the farmer is charged 13% to15% for buying a tractor. This is very strange," Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajashekhar Reddy told a meeting recently.

The suicides have continued even since Mr Reddy's newly elected Congress party state government promised a relief package for families of farmers who had committed suicide.

Parched farmland
Drought is becoming a way of life for the farmers
Farm associations say the farmers have been suffering ever since economic reforms began in India in 1991.

They say they are paying more for electricity, fertiliser and loans. But the prices of their produce have been rising slowly, leading to losses.

"The crisis did not come overnight. It is the result of policies of the past many years, which were not favourable to the farmers," P Changala Reddy, chief of a farmers grouping told Associated Press.

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03 Jun 04  |  South Asia
Plea to suicidal Indian farmers
21 May 04  |  South Asia
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19 May 04  |  South Asia
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23 Aug 02  |  South Asia

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