The Supreme Court on Friday rebuked the Tamil Nadu government over its handling of farmer suicides in the state. The apex court said it was the administration’s job to address the problem at the grassroots level and prevent farmers from taking the drastic step instead of handing out compensation packages.

The bench of Justices Dipak Misra and AM Khanwilkar said the government had to set up a facility that allows farmers to report bank officials using coercive action when they default on agricultural loans. ‘’Your job is to take steps to prevent farmers’ suicides and not go around distributing compensation after the suicides,” The Hindu quoted Misra as saying.

The court’s observations came after advocate R Rajarama, representing an association of Tamil Nadu farmers, said the reason behind the suicides was “the loss of dignity.” The court recommended that the state eliminate middlemen who collect produce from the farmers and asked the administration about schemes that will benefit the farmers.

Tamil Nadu is staring at its worst drought in 140 years with a 60% deficit in rainfall, officials said.

On July 3, the Supreme Court had stayed the Madras High Court’s order to waive all farmers’ loans in Tamil Nadu. On April 4, the high court bench had ordered co-operative societies and banks to not take action against farmers to recover crop loans and outstanding dues. On April 28, the state government had told the Supreme Court that no farmer had committed suicide because of drought in Tamil Nadu.

Earlier, the state government had waived loans for farmers with landholdings less than five acres. The new order included all farmers, irrespective of the size of their landholdings. The development came after farmers from Tamil Nadu had staged protests at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar for nearly a month, demanding drought relief from the Centre, a loan waiver and pensions for those farmers who do not work on the field anymore.