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Farmer suicides: What do the Gujarat numbers really mean?

Arvind Kejriwal accused Gujarat of having high farmer suicide rates - 5,874 over the last decade. The Gujarat government said only one farmer committed suicide due to crop failure.

Statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) indicate that the overall Kejriwal numbers may be closer to the truth, but we need to offer three caveats to this assertion.

Farming challenge. Reuters

Farming challenge. Reuters

1. The NCRB merely lists suicides in a particular employment category, but that does not mean farming or crop-failure is the cause of the suicide. There is thus an outside chance that both Gujarat and Kejriwal are right, and both are off the mark. It all depends on what was the real cause of the suicide - crop failure or some other reason.

2. High or low suicide rates are a function of a state's overall suicide levels. Thus the data to compare is the suicide rate among farmers against the overall suicide rate in a state. Here, Gujarat is not an outlier. Farmer suicides as a percentage of total suicides in the state ranged from 8-9 percent. Andhra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra fared worse.

3. There is no mention of landless labourers, landed agricultural labourers, no indication if this includes small and marginal farmers (It probably does). So even the current data may be an underestimate when talking about suicides relating to farming conditions gone bad.

* The data is sourced from the National Crime Records Bureau's annual reports on accidental deaths and suicides in India. The reports categorise suicides based on profession of the victim and include one sub-category of farmers/ agriculturists in the self-employed category.

* Overall, more than one lakh persons (1,35,445) in the country lost their lives by committing suicide during the year 2012. This indicates a decrease of 0.1% over the previous year's figure (1,35,585). But suicides in the country during the decade (2002-2012) have seen an increase of 22.7% (1,35,445 in 2012 from 1,10,417 in 2002).

* In 2012, Tamil Nadu has reported the highest number of suicides (16,927) accounting for 12.5% of total suicides followed by Maharashtra (16,112), West Bengal (14,957), Andhra Pradesh (14,238) and Karnataka (12,753) accounting for 11.9%, 11.0%, 10.5% and 9.4% respectively of the total suicides in the country.

* Across India, in 2012, self-employed category accounted for 38.7% of victims out of which 11.4% of victims were engaged in farming/ agriculture activities.

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