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Farmers' Suicides :A National Catastrophe
Dr. Parveen Kumar, Dr. D. Namgyal2/9/2020 10:17:41 PM
India is an agrarian country with around 70% of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture. Due to the high yielding and hybrid varieties of different crops, the country has been able to increase the food production many times. Green revolution of the seventies was as a result of the high yielding varieties and the use of chemical fertilizers. Although industrialized agriculture has been successful in producing large quantities of food, the future of food production is under threat due to problems in agriculture.
The major problems in agriculture are the decrease in average size of land holdings, fragmentation of holdings and loss of agricultural land due to one or the other reasons. This small size of holdings does not allow mechanization affecting the productivity of the crops.
This increase in production also brought it with the farmers' suicides. Still outside the ambit of formal credit institutions, the helpless farmer gets trapped in the credit taken from the land lord. This ultimately forces him to consume his/her life. The suicide by the farmers often referred to as the 'national catastrophe' has been taking place continuously since 1990. This is going on despite the government launching a lot of farm and farmer centric programmes related to soil health, insurance, credit, agri infrastructure. Farmers' are committing suicide since the 1990s, often by drinking pesticides, due to their inability to repay loans mostly taken from landlords and banks.
Farmer suicides account for 11.2% of all suicides in India. Activists and scholars have offered a number of conflicting reasons for farmer suicides, such as high debt burdens, poor government policies, corruption in subsidies, crop failure, public mental health, personal issues and family problems. As of 2014, in Maharashtra alone, more than 60,000 suicides had taken place, with an average of 10 suicides every day. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of India reported that a total 296,438 Indian farmers had committed suicide since 1995.
Of these, 60,750 farmer suicides were in the state of Maharashtra since 1995, with the remaining spread out in Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, all states with loose financial and entry regulations. Earlier, governments had reported varying figures, from 5,650 farmer suicides in 2014 to the highest number of farmer suicides in 2004 of 18,241. The farmers' suicide rate in India had ranged between 1.4 and 1.8 per 100,000 total population over a 10 year period through 2005; however the figures in 2017 and 2018 showed an average of more than 10 suicides daily. There are accusations of states manipulating the data on farmer suicides hence the real figures could be even higher. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has confirmed, in the National Crime
Records Bureau's accidental deaths and suicides in India report released recently that 11,379 farmers died by suicide in India in 2016.
This translates into 948 suicides every month or 31 suicides every day. The number of farmer suicides has shown a decline as per government data, coming down to 11,379 in 2016 from 12,360 in 2014 and 12,602 in 2015. For 2016, the NCRB has not released information for the cause of farmer suicides. A majority of the farmers who died by suicide in India were men while women accounted for only 8.6% of farmer suicides in the country. One of the reasons for this wide discrepancy could be that a large number of women who work on farms are not characterized as farmers.
Farmers' suicides can be attributed to a host of factors. As per reports by the central government and National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), government farming subsidies from 1993 to 2018 mostly went to producers and dealers of seeds and fertilizers, and not to farmers. In 2017, Rs. 35,000 crores of loans and subsidies were given to entities in the cities of New Delhi and Chandigarh, cities that do not have any farmers. Similarly, in Maharashtra, 60% of government loans and subsidies were given to people and entities residing in Mumbai. This has resulted in a nexus and the money being circulated between the government, banks large and small corporations and politicians, without any of it reaching farmers, aggravating their woes. Most farmer loans were of less than Rs. 50,000.
Another reason is the debt on the farmers'. Many of the suicides by Indian farmers' have been linked to the large amounts of debt and interest that many of these individuals accumulate. According to a 2006 study by P. Sainath, the percentage of farmers who were in debt in Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka, and Maharashtra was 70%, 65%, 61%, and 60%, respectively.
A senior adviser to the Ministry of Agriculture warns that India may soon earn the dubious title of 'farmer suicide capital of the world', as there is an 'enormous socio-political inertia and appalling indifference to the psychological agonies'. He further said that the Indian polity, infested with self-seeking politicians, bureaucrats, business people, and industrialists, has failed to see that the country's food soldiers have started deserting en masse.
This national catastrophe is a complicated issue that needs to be dealt with a holistic approach. Besides the various agriculture related reforms, the farming community particularly the landless, marginal and small farmers' need a personal attention and a healing touch. Programmes like Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, PM Kisan Samman Nidhi, PM Kisan Mandhan Yojana are some of the noble initiative. but it must be ensured that these does not suffer from exclusion or inclusion errors.
The authors are scientist and Head KVK-Leh, SKUAST-K; can be reached at pkumar6674@gmail.com
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