The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Moneylender & storm hound farmer to death

Jamalpur (Burdwan), April 16: A potato farmer committed suicide by consuming pesticide to avoid a debt-ridden future after the crop on his 12 bigha land was destroyed by last month’s hailstorm.

Sheikh Saifuddin was being hounded by money-lenders for the past two weeks as he had run up a sizeable debt.

“The entire crop was spoilt by the hailstorm. My son had raised about Rs 80,000 from local usurers to cultivate the land and he was virtually on the run for the past few days as the money lenders were after him,” said Saifuddin’s ageing father Sheikh Nasiruddin.

Saifuddin was the sole bread-earner of his family consisting of his old parents and three unemployed brothers.

The panchayat pradhan of Jothsrirampur village, Amiya Koley, said the hailstorm had caused widespread damage to standing crops in the area. “Nearly 70 per cent of the area’s potato crop was totally damaged by the fierce storm that lashed the area late in March,” Koley said. The CPM pradhan also alleged that the district administration had done little to stand by the affected farmers.

According to Rehman, the dead farmer’s younger brother, Saifuddin had taken a loan of Rs 45,000 from a local cooperative, and had also borrowed around Rs 40,000 at a very high interest rate from local money lenders to procure fertilisers, hire a tractor and for other expenses.

On Monday, a money-lender arrived at Saifuddin’s home, demanding that he pay up his dues along with the interest. The farmer was forced to sneak out of his house. “This humiliation got to my brother and he killed himself,” said Rehman.

Sources in the district agriculture department said in the absence of any specific order, no potato was being bought from Burdwan’s growers, even though crops worth Rs 15 crore have been destroyed in four blocks in the district.

On March 31, the state’s finance department had sent a directive to the managing director of Benfed that potato would be bought from the growers through cooperatives.

According to sources, the state government had intended to procure about 1,00,000 tonnes of potato to ease the crisis following the hailstorm. “Even though this was the target, only 20,000 tonnes have been procured till date,” said an official of the agricultural department.

The sources said the district administration, at a meeting held on April 2, decided to stop procuring potatoes as the finance department’s directive had not specified Burdwan district by name.

The meeting, presided over by the district magistrate, also took note of the fact that all the cold storage facilities in the district were full.

“We have received no specific target for the district and, therefore, cannot take any steps and have consulted all the departments concerned to put on hold the procurement,” said district magistrate Manoj Agarwal.

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