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Has the Number of Farmer Suicides Really Decreased?

Ravi Kaushal |
Even as thousands of agricultural workers continue to commit suicide every year, Minister R. M. Singh says that the number has decreased
Farmers suicides in India

Union Minister of Agriculture, Radha Mohan Singh, in his reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, said that the farmer suicides in India have taken a dip in 2016, as compared to the years 2015 and 2014. Continuing the UPA-era tradition of recording the suicides of farmers and agricultural workers separately, the government has tried to portray that the number of farmers’ suicides has decreased. But the distress of rural India appears to have become even more severe, with increasing number of suicides of agricultural workers.

An analysis of the data shows that farmers’ suicides have decreased by 20 per cent; the number has gone down from 12,602 (8,007 farmers and 4,595 agricultural workers) in 2015, to 11,370 (6,351 farmers and 5,019 agricultural workers) in 2016. In 2014, the country saw 12,360 suicides (6,710 agricultural workers and 5,650 farmers). Agricultural workers’ suicides have gone up in all many states this year – including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana.

Farmer Suicides in India

The provisional data of suicides in the farming sector by the National Crime Records Bureau states that Maharashtra still remains the state with the highest number of suicides. Out of the recorded 3,661 suicides in 2016, the state witnessed suicides of 2,550 farmers and 1,111 agricultural workers. The crisis appears to be equally dire in southern states – Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana. Karnataka, despite the existence of various farmer welfare schemes, continues to be graveyard for distressed and indebted farmers. The state witnessed suicides of 2,079 persons, out of which 1,212 were farmers.

The data might be a cause of discomfort for MP CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who had claimed to have removed Madhya Pradesh from the infamous group of 'BIMARU' states. MP still continues to be the state with the third-highest number of farmers’ suicides. It shows an utter failure of the farm loan waiver scheme after Mandsaur shootings – which had claimed lives of seven farmers last year. The state recorded suicides of 722 agriculture workers and 599 farmers.

Andhra Pradesh and Telangana present a similar picture. While Andhra Pradesh saw 804 farm sector-related suicides, Telangana recorded 645 personstaking their own lives.

Talking to Newsclick, Vijoo Krishanan, Joint Secretary of All India Kisan Sabha, said that the bifurcation of suicidees into agricultural workers and farmers is intended to show that farmers are not being affected. But the crisis continues to revolve around the agrarian sector.

"In Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, we see a huge force of 26 Lakh agricultural workers who are also tenant farmers. Their status as tenant farmers does not mean they should not be counted as farmers. They are prone to the worst forms of exploitation," he said.

Commenting on the failure of the farm loan waivers, Krishnan added that they have only addressed those farmers who have taken loans from institutional sources like banks and co-operatives, but majority of the farmers are still dependent on money lenders.

He said, "After our struggle, we saw the formation of Debt Relief Commission in Kerala which is mandated to look into the loans taken from informal sector too."

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