BENGALURU/NEW DELHI :
A total of 10,349 farmers and agricultural labourers committed suicide in 2018, a marginal dip from the 10,655 cases in the year before, home ministry data showed.
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data on accidental deaths and suicides, 5,763 farmers/cultivators and 4,586 agricultural labourers committed suicide in 2018. The suicide rate in the deeply stressed agrarian sector accounted for 7.7% of the total 134,516 suicides in the country.
“Out of 5,763 farmer/cultivator suicides, a total of 5,457 were male and 306 were female during 2018. Out of 4,586 suicides committed by agricultural labourers during 2018, 4,071 were male and 515 were female," the report added.
In 2015, the government published elaborate data on farmer suicides, including reasons for suicides. This has since been reduced to a few lines, as evident in the report released on Thursday. “It is a reflection of the serial dance of death on the farm that continues unabated," Devinder Sharma, an agriculture expert, said. He added that over 10,000 people resorting to suicide each year was a bigger concern than looking at marginal increase or decrease in numbers.
Experts also pointed to problems in the data, including efforts by states to downplay suicides and tinkering with the definition of farmers that tends to present a watered down version of the picture.
For instance, out of the 453 farmer suicides reported between 1 April and 30 November 2019 in Karnataka, 66 were rejected by authorities on the grounds that the suicides were for reasons other than the agrarian crisis in the state.
The year 2018 also saw a sharp increase in farmer protests across the country, triggering a wave of loan waiver announcements by political parties and governments.
“Even after those many loan waivers if so many farmers have committed suicide it is in itself a worry," said Himanshu, an associate professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University and visiting fellow at the Centre de Sciences Humaines, Delhi.
Maharashtra accounted for the highest share in farm-related suicides at 34.7%, followed by Karnataka at 23.2%, Telangana 8.8%, Andhra Pradesh 6.4% and Madhya Pradesh at 6.3%, data showed. West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya, Goa and Union territories, including Delhi, reported zero suicides by farmers/cultivators and agricultural labourers.
The farm sector has been under considerable pressure after recurring droughts and floods, and from declining income from agriculture, plummeting prices of produce, lack of minimum support price mechanism and shrinking land holdings.
Experts, however, said farmer suicides alone do not present the entire picture of the agrarian distress, as other factors such as falling consumer expenditure and rural wages also have an impact.
With unemployment at a four-decade high in 2017-18 and access to jobs and food shrinking, there have been reports of starvation deaths in Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.