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Driven to death by debt dread

Karimpur, (Nadia), Feb. 19: First, the cold, then the fog, finally, the hailstorms earlier this month. As Mohammad Azim Sheikh’s betel-leaf crop withered, so did his spirit. Yesterday, he swallowed the pesticide to used to protect his crop to end his life. Police said his body was found in the fields at Gopalipur village near here.

Forty-year-old Sheikh had run up debts in sowing and tending to the betel leaves on a two-bigha plot. He had hoped to pocket Rs 6,000 after harvest.

Sheikh’s father Mohammad Azizuddin said he was suffering from depression as he had lost the entire crop.

Sheikh is not an exception. About 6,000 farmers and their families are passing their days in extreme misery as several crops, including paddy, failed this year due to the unfavourable winter climate. Nadia’s betel leaf farmers alone have lost crops worth Rs 25 crore to the vagaries of nature.

The unusual climatic condition affected crops on about 1,200 hectares in the district. The extreme cold witnessed this year was not favourable for the growth of crops, said district agricultural authorities. Moreover, heavy fog shrouded the sowed fields for two months, causing irreparable damage to the crops that had managed to survive the fluctuating temperatures. The hailstorms were the last straw.

Biswanath Ghosh, secretary of the district betel leaf growers’ association, said many farmers have suffered so much that it would take them years to pay off the debts they have incurred. “Apart from the crop loss, the debts that were incurred in the market are telling hard on us. As the government failed to give protection in any way, many of us have no option but to sell our property to make up for the loss,” Ghosh said. He has himself lost betel leaves worth over Rs 2 lakh.

Supporting Ghosh, Tagar Chakrabarty and Buddhadev Biswas reiterated that the loss might have been less if the government had taken steps. Conceding the absence of government schemes to help farmers in such a scenario, Asim Bhattacharjee, sub-divisional officer of Tehatta, said some steps were being taken. “We are planning to help the farmers by issuing soft loans. But the scheme is yet to be finalised.”

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