Left-ruled West Bengal has hardly seen any suicides or starvation deaths arising from crop failure. But over the past three decades, there have been some suicides among the workers of closed or sick industries and some among tea garden workers whose gardens had been closed. Recently, a poultry owner committed suicide after the bird flu scare caused him heavy losses.
The Left leaders, including those in Parliament, are quick to claim the spread of agricultural prosperity and how it has all been due to the policies of the government. While it is true that the change in the tenancy condition in the state through Operation Barga during the early years of the Left rule has brought some degree of economic stability among farmers, it hardly cured every malady. The reasons being high landmass-population ratio (the highest in the country), small and highly segregated land holding patterns and failure of the Left to develop agri-industrial markets for farm produce.
At the same time, Operation Barga and the surplus land distribution among the marginal, poor and backward castes over the years have created a kind of cushion against farmers taking their own lives because of the fear of money lenders or landlords taking away all the produce.
However, in spite of that, the land reform policies have distributed poverty among the many rather than creating zones of prosperity. The macro picture on the state’s agricultural infrastructure and financial situation is no better than in other states.
Though there were reports that the tomato growers in north Bengal had been protesting against the non-availability of cold storage and marketing facilities, their frustration never reached a situation where they would take their own lives.
The NNS 59th round (January-December 2003) report has pointed out that on issues ranging from indebtedness of farmer households to their access to modern technology, Bengal farmers are not better off than their counterparts in other states.
With only 50% of agricultural land under irrigation, and land erosion and river siltation posing major challenges, many feel there is no point in being complacent.