New Delhi: Rural India fared badly last year, with farm distress peaking and 12,360 farmers and agricultural labourers committing suicide, new data released on Friday showed.
In 2014, the number of suicides by farmers and farm hands was 5% higher than in 2013, which recorded 11,772 cases.
Three states accounted for over half of these farm suicides in 2014—Maharashtra (4,004), Telangana (1,347) and Madhya Pradesh (1,198).
Agrarian distress peaked last year due to a deficit monsoon, low prices of key crops, such as rice, wheat and cotton, and a slump in rural wages. The June-September monsoon recorded a deficit of 12% of the long-period average and states like Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh were among the worst affected.
Of the 12,360 who killed themselves, 5,650 were farmers and 6,710 were agricultural labourers, says the report titled Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI), an annual publication of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), under the ministry of home affairs.
However, in its latest report, NCRB has split the category “self employed in farming/agriculture” for the first time and published separately the number of suicides by farmers and agricultural labourers.
The report also, for the first time, listed causes of farm suicides. Of the 5,650 farmer suicides reported in 2014, “bankruptcy and indebtedness” was the leading cause, accounting for 20.6% of the cases.
Family problems accounted for 20.1% of the suicides, while crop failure accounted for 16.8% of the cases. Other prominent causes of farm suicides, according to the report, were illness (13.2%), and drug abuse and alcohol addiction (4.9%).
A third of the farm suicides in Maharashtra, and a little over a fifth in Telangana, were debt-related, the report said.
Land-holding status of farmers who committed suicides show that 72.4% were small and marginal farmers with less than two hectares of land. A quarter of the suicides were by medium farmers (land-holding between two and 10 hectares); large farmers accounted for only 2.3% of cases. Rajasthan, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar did not report any farmer suicides in 2014.
Last year, India saw a large number of suicides among cotton growers in rain-fed areas of Telangana and Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. Farmer suicides were also reported from the chronically drought-prone Bundelkhand region spread across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Even sugarcane growers in the agriculturally prosperous western Uttar Pradesh committed suicide over non-payment of dues by sugar mills.
Weather woes led to more than a 5% dip in foodgrain production, and the agriculture sector grew by just 0.2% in 2014-15, down from 3.7% the previous year.
NCRB has been collecting data on farm suicides since 1995, and yearly figures show that farm deaths (farmers and farm hands put together) were higher in poor monsoon years. The last drought year in 2009 witnessed 17,368 farm suicides while the numbers were 18,241 in 2004 and 17,971 in 2002.
Poor monsoon rainfall is not the only reason. Small and marginal farmers are also heavily indebted and say that farming is no longer remunerative.
Between 1995 and 2014, India recorded 308,826 farm suicides, according to the previous ADSI reports.
There is a disagreement on whether the NCRB data on farm suicides can be attributed to agrarian distress, but in the recent past, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to these numbers.
More than 300,000 farmers have committed suicides and the government is trying to help them by improving access to irrigation, better seeds and fertilizers, Modi said in May at a rally in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, on completing a year in office.