NEW DELHI (AP) — At least seven debt-ridden farmers have killed themselves after freak hailstorms and heavy unseasonal rains destroyed crops across much of a western state, a government official said Wednesday.
Maharashtra government spokesman Satish Lalit said authorities have confirmed seven farmer suicides since Feb. 24. But Kishor Tiwari, president of pro-farmer group Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, put the toll much higher, at 32.
The rain and hailstorms in the past month destroyed paddy rice, wheat, cotton and onion crops in 28 of the 35 districts in Maharashtra. The lost crops were worth millions of dollars.
Mumbai, India’s main financial center, is the capital of Maharashtra state.
Agriculture is the main livelihood for more than 60 percent of India’s 1.2 billion people, and they are heavily dependent on the weather.
Tiwari said most of the farmers killed themselves by drinking pesticides or setting themselves on fire.
Prithiviraj Chavan, the state’s top elected official, appealed to farmers not to resort to this extreme step and promised financial support to them.
The federal government has been asked to provide 50 billion rupees ($800 million) in relief toward the damages caused by the freak weather, Chavan said.
More than 100,000 farmers commit suicide in India every year while under insurmountable debts.
The loans — from banks and loan sharks — were often used to buy seeds and farm equipment, or to pay large dowries to get their daughters married. But a bad harvest could plunge the farmer over the edge.