Farmer suicides: Maharastra continues to be worst-affected 10th year in a row

NCRB data confirms a rising trend, with at least 17,368 farmers killing themselves in India in 2009, up by 1,172 from 2008.

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Though the number of farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra registered a fall of 930 in 2009, the state with 2,872 suicides continued to be the worst in the country, 10th year in a row, according to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data.

The data released in December 2010 confirms a rising trend, with at least 17,368 farmers killing themselves in India in 2009, up by 1,172 from 2008.

At least 1,27,151 people in the country lost their lives by committing suicide in 2009, indicating an increase of 1.7% over the previous year’s figure (1,25,017). The rate of farmers’ suicides was thus higher at more than 7% over the previous year, and over four times the general suicides rate, the data reveals. This means that among all professionals, farmers remain most vulnerable.

Forty-eight out of 348 suicide deaths in the country every day, the data shows, were of farmers. On an average, around 47 farmers
killed themselves every day since 2004, from when the numbers spiked. This comes to one farmer suicide every 30 minutes.
Maharashtra’s figure of farmers’ suicides was 590 more than that registered in Karnataka, the second worst. Experts say the trend, despite the existence of special packages in some states, is disturbing given that it is but one indication of the several that there is no let-up, whatsoever, in the agrarian distress.

Between 2003 and 2007, Maharashtra breached the 4,000 mark in farmer suicides thrice. Over 12,000 farmers committed suicide in the state in this period.

The 2009 data in the NCRB’s annual report on ‘Accidental deaths and suicides’ released last month brings the all-India tally since 1997 to a staggering 2,16,500. Add the incomplete data of 1995 and 1996 reported by a few states - 24,449 suicides; the total soars to 240949 - or about a quarter of a million.

An institution within the Union home ministry, the NCRB is tracking farmer suicides data since 1995, but it was in 1997 that all the states began reporting the figure of suicides among farmers.

The data, however, does not desegregate the region-wise situation, so how many farmers in Vidarbha killed themselves in 2009 can’t be known.

But a recent note by the divisional commissioner to the chief minister of Maharashtra says that 1,004 farmers committed suicide in the six worst-affected districts of western Vidarbha that year, a marginal decline over the previous few years, but still a third of the state’s actual figure. Of that, only 263 suicides were due to agrarian distress, the note says.

That is, only about a fourth of the total suicides were due to indebtedness, where the debts were from formal sources like the banks or the primary agriculture societies. The government does not take into account private debts. In the region, 55% farmers do not fall in the formal credit network; they borrow from private sources.

The note mentions that despite special packages - the CM’s Rs1,075-crore package announced in 2005 and the PM’s Rs3,750-crore package in 2006 besides the Centre’s loan waiver scheme - the suicides show only a marginal decline. In 2010, western Vidarbha logged in 1,060 suicides, of which 213 cases were due to agrarian crisis. The note says that 7,104 farmers committed suicide in the six districts between 2001 and 2010, and 2,429 or a third were found eligible cases for the Rs1 lakh ex-gratia to the family members. The figure excludes suicides by women farmers.

The six districts have a very high SMR (suicide mortality rate or the number of suicides per 1 lakh population) of between 30 and 60 as against the state’s average of 13.2 and 10.9 for the country.

Though 18 of 28 states reported higher farmer suicide numbers in 2009, some, like Jammu & Kashmir or Uttarakhand, saw a negligible rise. But the share of big five states that have been reporting a very high farmer suicides rate for nearly a
decade now - Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh - continued to be high, with 10,765 suicides or 62% of the total.

Maharashtra has seen 44,276 farmer suicides since 1997, or over a fifth of the total suicides. This year it’s logged 2,872 suicides, down by 930 compared to 2008. Karnataka, with 2,282 in 2009, saw the highest rise of 545 of all states. Andhra Pradesh recorded 2,414, 309 more than the previous year’s tally, while Madhya Pradesh, 1,395, and Chhattisgarh, 1,802, saw a marginal increase. In  addition to these states, Tamil Nadu’s tally almost doubled from 512 in 2008 to 1,060 in 2009.

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