Indian rights watchdog sounds alarm over farmer suicides

India’s rights watchdog has expressed concern over the suicide of hundreds of farmers in the western state of Maharashtra in recent months, calling for an official response. Despite state aid, Indian agriculture is in a dire state due to drought, failed crops, poor infrastructure and low prices for produce, but Maharashtra is particularly badly hit.

The state government there said last weekend that 639 farmers committed suicide between March and May, an average of seven every day. In recent years the state has seen several protests by farmers turning violent.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has told the federal and state governments to report back in a month over the crisis and to spell out what government welfare schemes are available.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, likely to seek re-election next year, has promised to double the income of farmers by 2022 and launched a $1.3-billion insurance scheme to protect millions of them. But Maharashtra Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil told the state assembly on Saturday that only 174 farmers had been given compensation, with 122 cases rejected and 329 under review.

Opponents of the government say more than 13,000 farmers have killed themselves Maharashtra since Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014 both in Maharashtra and at federal level.

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