Odisha Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout on Friday appealed to the farmers in the state not to take the extreme step of committing suicide and torching their pest-affected standing paddy crop.

In the last three days, farmers in Bargarh, Jharsuguda, Nuapada, Ganjam, Sambalpur and Rayagada districts in the state have set their crops on fire on acres of paddy fields following pest attacks.

“Paddy crops have been regarded as Goddess Laxmi in our society since time immemorial; I am requesting the farmers in distress with folded hands not to set their pest-affected standing paddy crops,” said Rout.

“I am deeply moved with the way our farmers are burning their paddy crop. It seems synonymous with setting Devi Laxmi on fire. Age-old belief goes that by resorting to such a deplorable act, we’re deliberately divesting ourselves from the divine grace. We’ll be cursed as ‘Laxmichhada’,” said the Minister.

He assured that the state government will take appropriate action and adequate compensation will be provided.

Brunda Sahu, a farmer of Kalapani village in Bargarh district, committed suicide by consuming poison on Wednesday. He had burnt his damaged crop on Tuesday following a pest attack.

A woman farmer attempted suicide by consuming poison at Gujadiha village under Singhakhunta panchayat in Balasore district on Thursday night.

Family sources said Saraswati Patra, wife of Surendra Patra, was under mental stress for the last couple of days due to crop damage caused by pest attack.

She had also borrowed Rs 30,000 from local moneylenders to cultivate paddy on 3 acres of land.

The state government has set up a toll-free number, 1800-180-1551, to respond promptly to the distressed farmers.