New Delhi: Some alarming revelations have surfaced from a new study. A record 2.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide in India over the last 13 years. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's home state Maharashtra tops the list. It has the worst record for the 10th consecutive year.
According to The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, more than 2,16, 000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997. P Sainath, Rural Affairs editor for ‘The Hindu’, says: Add figures for the years 1995 and 1996 and 2010, the total figure crosses 2,50,000!
UPA 2 says the problem is systemic. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar whose state has the worst figures for the 10th consecutive year has stopped quoting NCRB figures since 2007.
More than 17,000 farmers committed suicide in 2009, the worst since 2004. That takes the total number of recorded farmer suicides since 1997 to 216,500.
But the figures could be starker. P Sainath, who broke the story, explains it could be beyond a quarter million people.
"The numbers are from the annual report of the Government of India's own National Crime Records Bureau. Their yearly total for farmer suicide from 1995 to 2009 bring us to a total of 2,40,000. So even if we assume that 2010 saw far fewer suicides than the average of the last decade, it still takes the figure past 2,50,000 or a quarter of a million farmer suicides,” explained P Sainath.
For the 10th consecutive year, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar's home state has the worst record with 2,872 farmers committing suicide, despite the much hyped prime minister's relief package.
Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh follow closely, with two thirds of farmer suicides being reported from these states.
But the question is that are more number of suicides being reported simply because there are more people in agriculture?
“Even the latest NCRB annual report of 2009 points out that general suicides in the whole country increased 15 per cent between 1999 and 2009, but the population of the country increased 18.5 per cent in the same decade. This means that there is an actual annual decline in the general suicide rates. But in the same period, the farmers' population declined as more people left agriculture. But the suicide rate rose steeply till they are double of the non- farmers' in the main states,” said P Sainath.
The despair has deepened over the past year with 18 of the 28 states reporting more suicides. The farmer suicide graph has been steadily rising.
“I believe the issue is more systemic. Because if you are talking about 15 years, you are talking about one and a half decades. There is a need to hold our horses, study the report and then comment,” exclaimed Congress spokesperson Manish Tewary.
In 2007, the agriculture minister in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha had said that there were more than 1,49,000 farmer suicides between 1997 and 2005. Since then, however, he has not fallen back on the NCRB numbers to explain the distress. But perhaps the first step in solving a crisis is acknowledging that one exists.