Page last updated at 05:28 GMT, Tuesday, 22 April 2008 06:28 UK

India rules out new farm debt aid

India farmers
Thousands of farmers commit suicide in India every year

India's agriculture minister has rejected calls for additional debt cancellation for millions of farmers.

In February, the government agreed a $15bn scheme to write off the debts of millions of small farmers - those with less than two hectares of land.

But there have been demands from opposition and some governing coalition parties to extend the loan waiver to farmers who own more land.

Farm activists say debts have been driving many farmers to suicide.

At least 10,000 debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide in India each year over the last decade - and activists say hundreds more have done so in recent months, despite the aid package.

Rejecting the demand, the federal agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, said the government was not in a position to take on new responsibilities.

Drought, a fall in crop prices and an increase in the cost of cultivation are cited as reasons for the farmers' plight.

Many farmers have been forced to take out loans to buy necessary supplies, but these have left them heavily in debt.

Some turn to moneylenders, who charge much higher rates of interest than banks.

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