Jharkhand: Farmer ‘kills self’, family blames govt dues

Source: indianexpress.com

A 40-year-old farmer from Jharkhand has allegedly committed suicide by jumping into a well he got constructed under the Mahatma National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) after government authorities did not clear dues for building materials.

The incident took place in Patratu village of Chanho block in Ranchi. Family members of Lakhan Mahato said he got a dug well constructed in 2018 on his farmland at a cost of Rs 3.54 lakh. Lakhan, they said, received around Rs 2 lakh from the government and paid the rest of the amount from his own pocket. Despite several trips to the block office, he had failed to get the dues cleared and was in stress, said his family members.

Ranchi SP (Rural) Ashutosh Shekhar said, “It appears to be a case of suicide. We are waiting for the post-mortem report for more details. There does not seem to be any foul play.” Block Development Officer Santosh Kumar said, “The death seems like an accident as he was an alcoholic. Why would he commit suicide? He also had money in his account and enough means to sustain himself. The post-mortem report may help in knowing the cause of death.”

Kumar added, “Lakhan got his work done recently and the voucher was submitted only on July 25. So there is no question of not paying him money.”

The NREGA website shows as pending the material cost of cement and bricks to the tune of Rs 1.22 lakh which Lakhan paid.

Lakhan’s family members said the well was constructed last year and only the parapet was raised recently. His wife, Bimla Devi, 35, said Lakhan had taken loans ranging from Rs 30,000-50,000 from relatives for the construction of the well and remained worried about the repayment.

“On Friday morning, he woke up and left for his field. When he did not return till evening, we started looking for him. I was worried because he had been tense about the debt.”

On Saturday morning, she said, somebody found Lakhan’s belongings floating in the well and raised an alarm. “His body was found and pulled out. He died in the same well which he got constructed for irrigation. Authorities are terming his death an accident, which is completely false. I don’t know what was going on in his mind that he took such an extreme step,” she said. Bimla Devi said her husband did not have enmity with anyone in the village.

Lakhan’s 80-year-old mother said, “Who will take care of our family now…I don’t even receive my widow pension despite my son going to the block office several times to get the issue resolved…”

Lakhan’s 17-year-old son Suraj said that since the past one month, his father had made “at least 15 trips” to the block office. Birbal Mahato, a relative from whom Lakhan had borrowed money, said, “He had taken Rs 30,000 from me. I never pressured him to repay, but he remained tense over the repayment.”

Three other villagers, Bhim Yadav, Raju Mahato and Subham Mahato are among those who got their dug wells constructed. They said that they had taken loans from friends, under the Kisan Credit Card and sold their buffaloes to arrange for the money. “We haven’t been paid Rs 1.5 lakh each since the past one year,” they said.

BDO Kumar said that there has been a backlog of payment in the district as well as the state. “Ideally, a person should not pay from his own pocket, but due to lack of funds, payment for materials were delayed to the vendors. So, many people used money from their own pocket.”