It\\\’s official. The country has seen over a quarter of a million farmers’ suicides between 1995 and 2010. The National Crime Records Bureau’s latest report on ‘Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India’ places the number for 2010 at 15,964. That brings the cumulative 16-year total from 1995 — when the NCRB started recording farm suicide data — to 2,56,913, the worst-ever recorded wave of suicides of this kind in human history.
Maharashtra posts a dismal picture with over 50,000 farmers killing themselves in the country\\\’s richest State in that period. It also remains the worst State for such deaths for a decade now. Close to two-thirds of all farm suicides have occurred in five States: Maharashtra, Karnataka, A.P., Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
The data show clearly that the last eight years were much worse than the preceding eight. As many as 1,35,756 farmers killed themselves in the 2003-10 period. For 1995-2002, the total was 1,21,157. On average, this means the number of farmers killing themselves each year between 2003 and 2010 is 1,825 higher than the numbers that took their lives in the earlier period. Which is alarming since the total number of farmers is declining significantly. Compared to the 1991 Census, the 2001 Census saw a drop of over seven million in the population of cultivators (main workers). The corresponding census data for 2011 are yet to come in, but their population has surely dipped further. In other words, farm suicides are rising through the period of India\\\’s agrarian crisis, even as the number of farmers is shrinking.
While the 2010 numbers show a dip of 1,404 from the 2009 figure of 17,368, there is little to cheer about. “There was a similar dip in 2008, only to be followed by the worst numbers in six years in 2009,” points out Professor K. Nagaraj, an economist at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, who did the largest ever study of the farm suicides covering a decade (The Hindu, November 12-15, 2007). “This one-year decline does not in any way indicate we have turned the corner. This dip happened mostly because of one-off falls in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. In fact, a look at the ‘Big 5\\\’ who drive the numbers shows the fallout of the agrarian crisis to be as grim as ever. They have actually increased their share of the farm suicides.”
Maharashtra leads in statistic of shame
The five States with the largest share of the quarter-of-a-million farm suicides recorded in India over the past 16 years are Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
While the total number of farmers who took their own life in 2010 showed a dip from the preceding year, the share of the Big 5, in fact, rose to 66.49 per cent of all farm suicides in 2010. It was 62 per cent in 2009. Three of the Big 5 States have shown significant increases over 2009: Maharashtra (+269), Karnataka (+303), and Andhra Pradesh (+111). Nationally, the last eight years have seen on average, farmers killing themselves at a rate of one every 30 minutes.
In all, 14 of 28 States reported increases in 2010, while four have recorded declines of five or fewer suicides. The dip in 2010 comes with big falls in Chhattisgarh (-676), Tamil Nadu (-519) and Rajasthan (-461) and significant falls in Madhya Pradesh (-158), Puducherry (-150), and Uttar Pradesh (-108). West Bengal and Gujarat also report declines of 61 and 65. But the overall trend remains dismal.
In 1995, the first time the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) tabulated farm suicide data, the Big 5 accounted for 56.04 per cent of all farm suicides . In 2010, despite a one-year decline, they accounted for 66.49 per cent. Maharashtra\\\’s story is alarming. It saw 20,066 farmers kill themselves between 1995 and 2002. That stands dwarfed by the 30,415 farmers who took their lives in the next eight years. The latter period saw an annual average increase of nearly 1,155 such deaths in the State. This was also the period when money was poured into relief ‘packages\\\’ of the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister, through the loan waiver of 2008, and other measures.
During the very decade in which it reigned without break as the worst State to be a farmer in, Maharashtra rose to the first position among the big States in per capita income. Overall at Rs. 74,027, it is behind only much smaller States like Haryana and Goa. The Union Agriculture Minister is from this State and has held that post for six of those 10 years.