Thursday, May 10

A Fate Worse Than Debt
The Jailing of Indian Farmers
By P. SAINATH, Counterpunch, May 5/6, 2007

"The tea in Kadapa jail was better than the chai we get here in Garladinne mandal. But the rest of the food was awful," says M. Nallappa Reddy. His brief sojourn behind bars has made this man in his Sixties a minor celebrity in this State. Not so much because he liked the tea in Kadapa jail. But because many see his experience as the revival of an ominous trend: the jailing of bankrupt farmers for debt in Andhra Pradesh.

"It happened before during the time of Chandrababu Naidu's government, it is happening again now. More aggressively," says Malla Reddy, general secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Ryuthu Sangham (APRS). "Banks are turning the screws on hard-up farmers, sending them to jail. Mind you, these are farmers in drought-hit regions with no crop and no capacity to pay. The same banks won't touch big industrialist defaulters who owe them crores. But farmers owing a few thousand rupees go to jail." Till recently, the website of the A.P. Debt Recovery Tribunal listed some 200 names of VIPs, industrialists, contractors, and politicians owing over Rs.1,000 crore to the banks. The money was not recovered but the site seems to have vanished. [...more]

... Media coverage following his arrest ensured Mr. Nallappa Reddy's early release. He was out in a week. Others were not so lucky. "I spent a full month inside," says Gengi Reddy in Kadiri mandal. He too went to Kadapa central jail. "That was in the time of Chandrababu Naidu's government. I too, tried for a settlement whereby I paid back both principal and more. I even offered them some of my six acres to sell and recover the money. But they [the Kadiri branch of the same bank] told me flatly: `we don't want your land. Only cash. You should go to jail.'" He did. And has since sold off irrigated land to clear his debts.

"This practice has now revived," says Mr. Malla Reddy. "In Mahbunagar district, just two months ago, a Dalit farmer and an OBC farmer spent two weeks in jail. This time, the State Bank of India was involved. Again, drought-hit farmers with no ability to repay."

They were only released when their families borrowed more money from usurers to pay off their bank debts. All those who have been to jail speak of meeting others in there for the same reasons.

Mr. Nallappa Reddy was more fortunate. "His neighbours love him," says one of them. "The publicity he got stopped a lot of us from also going inside." The question is: for how long? "The banks are getting more forceful now, as you can see from the Telangana cases," says Mr. Malla Reddy. "This matter can explode one day."

"The government is not interested in us," says Sainath Reddy, a nephew of the man who sank borewells in the graveyard. "They want corporate agriculture. We are a nuisance in the way. I tell you, those you wish well, ask them to stay away from agriculture. Don't even wish it on your enemies."
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