by Peerzada Arshad Hamid
MAHABUBNAGAR, Andhra Pradesh, India, Oct. 13 (Xinhua) -- V Naresh, a 45-year old farmer turned construction worker, has returned to his village to spend Dussehra (a Hindu festival) with his family.
Before leaving his village, Naresh used to till three acres of land that he inherited from his parents. But for the last five years, the land has been idle. Nobody wanted to farm it.
"It pains me to see wild grass and weeds growing in my field instead of crops but what can be done?" he said.
Because there is no irrigation system in his village, farmers there solely depend on rainfall. But since 2008, the rains have failed them and pushed them into debt.
Five years back, Naresh raised a loan of 1,638 U.S. dollars from a local money-lender at an exorbitant interest to dig wells in his farm.
"The men drilled three spots for water in the field but with no success," said Naresh, pointing to the holes. "Later on they dug a fourth well and there was water but a couple of months later the well dried up."
To repay his loans and to feed his family, Naresh was forced to abandon his farm and sought employment in the nearby village of Gadwal as a construction worker.
Since then he became a construction worker and never returned to farming.
"For the two consecutive years I thought things would turn better but when it started getting worse, I had to think of migrating from my village and work somewhere else as a laborer to feed my family and repay my loans," he said.
Naresh said that after the festival, he would take his wife and children to his place of work. He said that if the situation remains the same, he would sell his land to settle permanently outside of Mahabubnagar.
"It is a drought prone area and government is not doing anything," Naresh said.
According to Naresh, he knows of several people in and around his village who committed suicide because of successive crop failures in their farmlands.
Caring Citizens' Collective, a group compiling data on farmer suicides and working for the betterment of farmers in Telangana, said in Mahabubnagar alone, 1,922 farmers have committed suicide from 1999 to 2012.
According to India's National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), last year 2,572 farmers committed suicide in Andhra Pradesh; the incidence of suicide rose to 35,898 from 1995 to 2012.
Naresh is just one of the more than a million residents who have migrated from Mahabubnagar District, around 100 km south of Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh, to look for employment in neighboring towns, mostly in construction projects.
Because of the large-scale human migration from Mahabubnagar, the district is now one of the main sources of migrant workers in construction projects in more affluent areas.
"Even women migrate from this place to work on construction sites elsewhere because of the limited opportunities in Mahabubnagar and the drop in agricultural production," said A P Jithender Reddy, a former legislator from the district.
Reddy blamed successive governments for not building irrigation dikes so that water from rivers can be brought to farms and alleviate the plight of farmers.
"It is the indifference and inaction by successive governments of Andhra Pradesh that are responsible for forcing people to migrate," said Reddy.
India's official census conducted in 2011 showed that Mahabubnagar has a population of about four million people.
But according to K Raghuramaiah, a journalist of a Telugu language newspaper, some 1.4 million of the population of Mahabubnagar have already migrated to work elsewhere.
Raghuramaiah has done a series of reports in the past on the plight of farmers in the district and the suicides of farmers.
Mahabubnagar has an arable land of 855,499 hectares and 526,555 hectares of uncultivated land. Of the arable land, 80 percent is dependent on rainfall and 20 percent on irrigation.
Manayk Singh, a 78-year-old framer, has 10 acres of land. He said in the past they used to impound rainwater in tanks that were interlinked with a distribution system. However, government indifference to this old but dependable practice has made things worse.
"Our modern day planners and leaders have neither streamlined the old technology nor are doing some innovative techniques to help farmers like me," Singh said.