Presently, the Telangana government gives Rs 6 lakh to a bereaved family. But the ex-gratia comes after a long procedural delay.
Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s innovative scheme to provide life insurance cover to the families of farmers who commit suicide has evoked a mixed reaction from lawmakers and experts from the agriculture and rural distress sectors. This first of its kind scheme will be implemented in the state from 15 August.
Till now, the kin of the deceased were dependent on the ex-gratia sanctioned by the state governments. Presently, the Telangana government gives Rs 6 lakh to a bereaved family. But the ex-gratia comes after a long procedural delay.
As part of this scheme, the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) will insure the lives of all 56 lakh farmers who own land in the state for an amount of Rs 5 lakh in case they die. For the first time, the LIC has agreed to cover those who commit suicides too, which is normally excluded from the purview of insurance cover. The state government will pay an annual premium of around Rs 4,000. Now that the LIC has agreed to cover the lives of farmers for Rs 5 lakh, the government is planning to merge the ex-gratia scheme with it and will only pay an additional amount of Rs 1 lakh, in case an insured farmer commits suicide. Telangana is one of the few states in the country which accounts for a large number of farmer suicides.
Principal Secretary, Agriculture, C. Parthasarathi told The Sunday Guardian that this insurance scheme is unique and would be beneficial to the families in distress. All the farmers in the age group of 18 to 59 years will be eligible for the scheme and the details of Aadhaar card and land record passbook will be considered for the claims. The state has paid around Rs 6,000 crore to around 56 lakh farmers as investment subsidy at the rate of Rs 4,000 per acre for a single crop. The subsidy will be paid for two crops per year. With the payment of insurance premium, the government will incur an additional Rs 3,000 crore per annum to cover all these farmers.
KCR, who has been trying hard to cobble together a federal front with non-Congress and non-BJP parties, has been showcasing these farmers’ investment subsidy and insurance schemes before other regional parties so that they too can follow them and incorporate them in their common minimum programme before the next general elections in 2019.
However, experts on agriculture and rural development issues are of the view that the insurance cover was not a solution to rural distress. They say that the insurance scheme might serve as an abetment to farmers to take the extreme step of ending their lives as there is a guaranteed sum.
“The inclusion of farmer suicides in the insurance scheme is unfair as normally the insurance companies including LIC won’t cover them in their regular policies. The Telangana government brought pressure on the insurer to cover it on the ground of bulk policies. This goes against the basic principles of the insurers,” said Prof Siddharth of Jayashankar Agriculture University, Hyderabad.
K. Sajaya of Caring Citizens’ Collective (CCC), which works for the families of farmers who had committed suicide in Telangana, felt that a life insurance cover won’t solve the persisting problem in rural areas. “The government better implement a proper crop insurance scheme instead of a life insurance scheme to bail out farmers,” she told this newspaper.
According to a study conducted by B. Kondal Reddy of Rythu Swarajya Vedika, a network of farmers’ organisations in Telangana, as many as 3,302 farmers had committed suicide between 1 June 2014 and 10 December 2017. From 11 December 2017 to till now, 500 farmers ended their lives. The Vedika coordinates with the officials to ensure ex-gratia payment to the bereaved families.
Sajaya, whose CCC is part of this Vedika, said that most of those who had ended their lives were tenant farmers who had no rights on the land they cultivated. “They ended their lives due to huge debt burdens and still they are not eligible for any insurance cover in the present scheme,” she said.
G. Sukhender Reddy, an MP who heads a government sponsored Rythu Samanvaya Samithi (farmers coordination council), defended the move. “Till now, the farmers had no collective life insurance cover and the bereaved families had to depend on the mercy of revenue officials for ex-gratia, but now that will go,” he told this newspaper. Ruling TRS MLC P. Rajeswar Reddy hailed it as a “path-breaking” move.
Officials in the Telangana agriculture department said that the Union Agriculture Ministry too was interested in knowing the details of the life insurance cover to farmers.
The state government is planning to invite officials of the Centre as well as the agriculture ministers of states where farmer suicides are widespread for the launch of the scheme here on 15 August.