Farm suicides hit a 21-year low in 2016, claims government
New Delhi: Suicides in the farm sector fell to a 21-year low of 11,370 in 2016, government data presented in Parliament showed, declining 10% from the previous year’s figure of 12,602.
While fewer farmers took their own lives during the year than the year before, more agriculture sector workers killed themselves during the period, provisional numbers from the Union home ministry’s annual Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI) report showed.
The overall decline in farmer suicides came in a year India witnessed a normal monsoon—an important determinant of farm output—while 2015 had seen a crippling drought across several states.
The number of farm suicides in 2016 is the lowest since 1996. Past ADSI reports show that the highest number of 18,241 suicides were seen in 2004, another drought year. In 1995, when the National Crime Records Bureau started recording farm suicides, the numbers were the lowest at 10,720.
State-wise data from the agriculture ministry in response to a question in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday showed that suicides by farm labourers rose from 4,595 in 2015 to 5,019 in 2016, an increase of 9.2%, highlighting the fact that despite a normal monsoon, landless labourers at the bottom of India’s vast farm economy continued to suffer.
However, suicides by landholding farmers fell by a sharp 21%, from 8,007 in 2015 to 6,351 in 2016, indicating waning distress after consecutive years of drought in 2014 and 2015.
In 2016, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh accounted for 7,865 suicides, or about 70% of the total. Ten states reported fewer than seven suicides, with large states like West Bengal and Bihar reporting no cases.
“The figures are not quite believable. For instance, in Punjab, studies by leading universities have shown that suicide rate of farm workers is higher than farmers, while these figures presented in Parliament are showing a different picture,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, convener of the New Delhi-based farm policy advocacy group Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.
“West Bengal reporting no suicides is questionable as earlier ADSI reports showed 230 suicides in 2014, and 807 in 2011. There have been regular reports of potato farmers from the state committing suicide,” Kuruganti said, adding, “In terms of states showing an increase in suicides in 2016 compared to 2015, you would find that there are BJP, Congress, Left, and BJD governments there. Shows that no government, state or centre is actually delivering when it comes to agrarian crisis.”
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