At a time when the governance of Maharashtra is in limbo and political parties can’t decide on forming a government in the state, the situation for agriculture and farmers continues to be grim. With 3661 farmer suicides, the state continues to rank the highest in the country, as recorded in the latest data for 2016 released in October 2019 by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in its report on Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India.
This year, the agrarian crisis is compounded by the extended monsoon, and in Maharashtra, in 34 districts and 325 talukas, farmers have suffered losses. The governor has announced a compensation of Rs 8,000 a hectare for crops and Rs 18,000 a hectare for horticulture, which farmers have dismissed as being too meagre.
The NCRB, usually prompt in releasing data on accidental deaths and suicides, hadn’t done so since 2016 giving the excuse that it was still collecting data from states. The 2016 data released now is indicative of the continuing stress for farmers, agricultural labourers and daily wagers in the country — and more so in Maharashtra. But the data is confusing to say the least, and the new heads of data collection add to the lack of clarity. The NCRB had already created new heads since 2014, and this time, it has extended the categories for data collection.
We have in the category 'Persons Engaged in Farming Sector (Total)':
1. Persons Engaged in Farming Sector (Farmers/Cultivators) — There is an explanation that farmers/cultivators are those whose profession is farming, and includes those who cultivate on their own land, as well as those who cultivate on leased land/other's land without the assistance of agricultural labourers.
2. Farmers/cultivators who cultivate their own land — with or without the assistance of agricultural labourers
3. Those who cultivate on leased land
4. Agricultural Labourers
There is also a footnote that the data depicts only the profession of those who have committed suicide and has no linkage whatsoever with the cause of the suicide.
Of the total 11379 suicides in the Persons Engaged in Farming Sector, Maharashtra has 3661, Karnataka is second with 2079 and Madhya Pradesh third with 1321.
States like West Bengal and Bihar have reported zero farm suicides in all categories, and if true, this is incredible to say the least. Since 1995 when the NCRB began collecting data, Maharashtra has reported the highest number of suicides from the year 1998 to 2016. Yet, when Prof K Nagaraj in his analysis of suicides by farmers referred to the state as the "graveyard of farmers", much offence was taken by the state government which commissioned an opposing report by Prof Narendra Jadhav, blaming the figures on P Sainath, then rural affairs editor of The Hindu who had reported Prof Nagaraj’s analysis.
Since the beginning, the NCRB introduced the data for farm suicides under the single heading 'Self-Employed (Farming/Agriculture)'. The heads of data collection added in 2014 were Self-Employed Persons/Agricultural Labourers, Self-Employed Persons - Agriculture (farmers who have their own land) and Self-Employed Persons - Agriculture (farmers on contract or lease basis).
In the period between 1995 and 2015, a total of 321,428 farmers had committed suicide. Maharashtra recorded 69,045 of these suicides, with Karnataka second at 42,768 and Andhra Pradesh third at 39,460. The latest data shows that of the total 11,379 persons involved in the farming sector, 6,270 farmers/cultivators and 5,109 agricultural labourers have committed suicide during 2016, accounting for 8.7 percent of the total suicides (1,31,008) in the country. Out of 6,270 farmer/cultivator suicides, a total of 5,995 were male and 275 were female in the year 2016.
Out of the 5,109 suicides committed by agricultural labourers during 2016, 4,476 were male and 633 were female. Another grim statistic is that of the total 88,997 male suicides, the maximum suicides were committed by daily wage earners (21,902), then by self-employed persons (12,341), and then persons engaged in the farming sector (10,471).
Maharashtra also reported the highest number of suicides at 17,195 (13.1 percent) and Tamil Nadu is second at 15,182 (11.6 percent). There were 13,451 suicides in West Bengal, 10,687 in Karnataka and 10,442 in Madhya Pradesh accounting for 10.3 percent, 8.2 percent and 8.0 percent of the total suicides respectively. These five states together accounted for 51.1 percent of the total suicides reported in the country, and they are also the states affected by agrarian distress.
Even after allocating different categories, the extent of distress is reflected in the figures — which could be higher. The collection and publishing of NCRB data on suicides, especially farm suicides, cannot be delayed in this fashion and there is little excuse for a three-year lag. The government should instead institute a regular farm suicide census as recommended by the National Commission on Farmers and use the data to address the grim situation in the sector. Instead, it is trying to obfuscate data under different categories and delay publication to cover up the gravity of the situation.
The distress is acute in Maharashtra as is evident in the government’s own surveys. The Maharashtra Economic Survey says 53 percent of the population still relies on agriculture for sustenance. According to the tenth Agriculture Census (2015-16), the number of operational holdings and area of operational holdings in the state was 1.53 crore and 2.05 crore hectares respectively. The agriculture and allied activities sector was expected to grow by a mere 0.4 percent during 2018-19 due to less rain as the state only received 73.6 percent of the normal monsoon. However, the state economy was expected to grow by 7.5 percent during 2018-19, though that’s not an improvement over the previous year.
The Economic Survey said the production of cereals and pulses is expected to decrease by six percent and 35 percent respectively, while the production of oil seeds, cotton and sugarcane is expected to increase by 16 percent, 17 percent and 10 percent respectively over the previous year. However, what is equally serious is that during 2018-19, the area under rabi crops was 33.83 lakh ha, which is 50 percent compared to the previous year, mainly due to deficit rainfall in September and October 2018.
While some of the distress can now be blamed on the excess rain towards the end of the monsoon this year that damaged a lot of standing crops, the fact remains that the death of so many farmers in the country, now close to 3.5 lakh, has not led to radical policy changes to revitalise the agriculture sector. The farmer is once again caught in the grip of uncertain rains and debt, with little hope on the horizon. And the suicides continue, even if the NCRB introduces new categories and delays its own reports.
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Updated Date: Nov 23, 2019 12:08:00 IST