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Karnataka - Madikeri Printer Friendly Page   Send this Article to a Friend

Coffee crisis snuffs out 24 lives

By Our Staff Correspondent

MADIKERI, DEC. 23. Twenty-four farmers, including two women, committed suicide in Kodagu district since 2003. Twelve cases each were reported in 2003-04 and 2004-05.

Most of the victims were marginal farmers with a few having smallholdings. Almost all the deaths are being attributed to the crash in coffee price in the past five years.

Most of the victims had borrowed from cooperative banks in the district and a few from commercial banks. Others had banked on moneylenders.

According to reports, the district administration has paid compensation to the kin of seven victims. An equal number of them are awaiting payment. Ten applications for compensation have been rejected.

The Kodagu Planters' Association had said that 22 coffee growers had committed suicide in Kodagu, Hassan and Chikmagalur since 2000. Among the victims, N.S. Shanmugayya of Nidta in Somwarpet taluk had the highest dues of Rs. 2.2 lakh. He had borrowed from Nidta Vyavasaya Seva Sahakara Bank. Niranjan of Shantalli in Somwarpet taluk had taken Rs. 1,200 from a group of moneylenders, and similar sums from other sources.

The victim Jayalakshmi, a labourer who owned no land, had borrowed Rs. 19,300 from a self-help group and Rs. 26,500 from friends. Her kin is not being paid compensation. Ramakka from Chembu village in Madikeri taluk, however, owned 6.5 acres of land. She had borrowed Rs. 1 lakh from Canara Bank at Sampaje and Rs. 88,426 from Payaswini Seva Sahakara Bank.

Protest

Farmers and members of a few organisations picketed the office of the Deputy Registrar here recently in protest against the State Government directing cooperative institutions to recover loans from farmers. If the cooperative banks take extreme steps to recover loans, it will aggravate the situation, people feel. However, these banks are also in a difficult position as they need to repay National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development to avail themselves of refinance.

Impact

The coffee crisis has an adverse impact on life in Kodagu. Not only growers but also businessmen, transporters and others have been affected. Those who have borrowed for building houses, buying cars and expanding their plantations are in no position to repay the money. People who have let out their buildings for shops in Virajpet are not getting rents properly, says Manu Shenoy. An owner who got over Rs. 15,000 a month as rent earlier is finding it difficult to get even Rs. 3,000.

A former office-bearer of the Coffee Board said bankers are giving loans to growers only up to 20 per cent of the acre value of the plantation. According to reports, Virajpet Town Cooperative Bank has initiated proceedings to attach 35 buildings, including a few houses, in and around Virajpet town.

The District Cooperative Central Bank has to recover Rs. 112 crores (short term) and Rs. 11 crores (medium term), the Deputy Registrar of Cooperative Societies R. Sreedhar said. Besides, the primary agricultural cooperative banks have to recover over Rs. 17 crores.

He said the central bank has plans to form a special team to seize vehicles from loan defaulters.

However, with regard to recovery of loans, the bank will not resort to confiscation methods immediately. "We will convince the farmers to repay,'' he said. There is a move to reduce the interest burden by up to three per cent, he said.

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