The Supreme Court on Friday questioned why there was no national policy in place to compensate farmers for crop failure or indebtedness, the primary reasons that led them to commit suicide. While hearing a petition on farmer suicides, a bench comprising Chief Justice JS Khehar and Justice NV Ramana observed, “There must be a policy to compensate farmers for crop failure. This is a national issue and of larger public interest,” The Times of India reported.

The court made the observation while hearing an appeal filed by NGO Citizens Resource and Action Initiative led by activist Mallika Sarabhai, which questioned why the Gujarat High Court had dismissed its plea seeking relief for farmers. The petition had highlighted that 692 farmers had taken their lives in Gujarat between 2004 and 2012. It had sought compensation of Rs 5 lakh for families of farmers who committed suicide because of crop failure and financial aid at the rate of Rs 30,000 per hectare for those who failed to yield sufficient harvest.

The Centre, states and Union Territories have been given four weeks to reply to the apex court’s notice seeking suggestions to tackle situations that force farmers to commit suicide. They have also been asked about policies implemented so far to protect farmers from debt and crop failure caused by natural causes, The Financial Express reported.

According to a 2014 report of the National Crime Records Bureau, there were 5,650 farmer suicides that year. Maharashtra had the highest number of cases with 2,568, followed by Telangana with 898 and Madhya Pradesh with 826.