Bengaluru: The farmer suicide rate in Karnataka has hit the highest level in a decade, highlighting agrarian distress in the state.
A total of 158 farmers killed themselves in July alone in the state, government data showed, bringing this year’s toll of farmer suicides to 197, the most since 2003.
The alarming rise in death toll is worrying experts as it has happened in a year when the state received sufficient rains. Also, unlike in 2003, this year’s suicide cases have nothing to do with drought or crop failure. In fact, more suicide cases were reported this year from Mandya district, a well-irrigated region.
“This is a new type of situation in the state,” said economist K. Nagaraj, who has studied farmer suicides over the last decade. “Unlike the suicide wave in the last decade, this one cannot be linked to crop failure or drought. It could be only because farmer income has collapsed for reasons such as price crash or delayed payments,” said Nagaraj, who studied farmer suicides covering a decade for Madras Institute of Developmental Studies in 2008.
Sugarcane growers top the list of suicide data, followed by cotton and paddy cultivators.
The compensation issue may become a problem as many farmers who committed suicide cultivated crops on leased land or on land that was not in their names. This may become an impediment as the state considers landless farmers ineligible for compensation.
Moreover, the distribution of compensation of Rs.1 lakh per deceased farmer is happening at a slow pace, according to government data. For instance, the government has approved compensation for only 60 out of the 197 affected families so far this year, shows the data.
The state government collects data from district commissioners who monitor farm suicides throughout the year. While there was a decline in the number of suicide cases in the last five years.
However, the actual number of farmers killing themselves could be far more as many agricultural experts say the government data on farmer suicides is hopelessly conservative.
When Mint reported farmer suicides rising at an alarming rate in the state on 17 July, journalist P. Sainath said official estimates could be a gigantic understatement of the far worse ground reality. For instance, when the government noted only 48 deaths in 2014, National Crime Records Bureau on 17 July reported 321 farmers’ suicides and 447 farm labourers’ suicides for the same year.
The state government has released Rs.450 crore towards the first instalment of Rs.100 a tonne as incentive to each farmer. It has been cracking down on moneylenders and has asked banks to not serve repayment notices to farmers for now, Karnataka’s agricultural minister Krishna Byre Gowda said last month.
But it still remains unclear how the government plans to rescue agricultural households that have fallen into a debt trap.
As per the data, farmers who have committed suicide together owed close to Rs.150 crore to various institutional lenders, a burden which now shifts on their kin.