Between 2015 & 2016, suicide by farmers fell but suicide by agricultural labourers grew

Between 2015 & 2016, suicide by farmers fell but suicide by agricultural labourers grew


The total number of farm suicides in the country has reduced from 12,602 to 11,370 between 2015 and 2016 viz. a fall by 9.8 percent. This has been revealed recently in a reply by the Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Shri Parshottam Rupala in the Lok Sabha.

So, one may wonder why there is such a hue and cry about rural distress and agrarian crisis in the recent times.

Clearly, the minister's reply on 20th March to an unstarred question (no. 4111) shows that although the number of suicides by farmers fell from 8,007 to 6,351 between 2015 and 2016, the number of suicides committed by agricultural labourers increased by 9.2 percent from 4,595 to 5,019 during that span. Please check table-1 for further details.

Table 1: Number of suicides by farmers and agricultural labourers (2013 to 2016)

Table 1 Suicides by Farmers and Agricultural Labourers 
 
Source: Reply to Unstarred Question No. 4111 dated 20th March, 2018, Lok Sabha, please click here to access
 
In 2016, most number of suicides by agricultural labourers were committed in Maharashtra (1,111), followed by Karnataka (867) and Madhya Pradesh (722). Likewise, most number of suicides by farmers were found in Maharashtra (2,550), followed by Karnataka (1,212) and Telengana (632). In big states like West Bengal, the number of farm suicides since 2015 has been 'zero', which experts say that it actually indicates data fudging. In case of Bihar too, one notices that the total number of farm suicides was 'zero' in 2016.

Chart 1 Proportion of suicides by agricultural labourers and farmers in total farm suicides

Source: Reply to Unstarred Question No. 4111 dated 20th March, 2018, Lok Sabha, please click here to access

The chart-1 indicates that the proportion of suicide by agricultural labourers in total farm suicides was 54.29 percent in 2014, 36.46 percent in 2015 and 44.14 percent in 2016. However, the proportion of suicide by farmers/ cultivators in total farm suicides was 45.71 percent in 2014, 63.54 percent in 2015 and 55.86 percent in 2016.  

Readers may note that the suicide data as quoted by the minister in Lok Sabha has been sourced from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The suicide data for 2016 is provisional in nature and has not yet been made public through NCRB’s annual publication entitled Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India (ADSI).

Although the reply by Shri Parshottam Rupala did not reveal the causes behind farm suicides in 2016, the ADSI 2015 report says that ‘Bankruptcy or Indebtedness’ and ‘Farming related Issues’ were the major causes of suicides among farmers/ cultivators in 2015. It also says that ‘Family Problems’, followed by ‘Illness’ were the two major causes of suicides among agricultural labourers.

According to the ADSI 2015 report, ‘farmers/ cultivators’ include persons whose profession is farming and who either cultivates his/ her own land or who cultivate lease land with or without the assistance of agricultural labourers. On the other hand, the ADSI report defines ‘agricultural labourers’ as those persons who primarily work in farming sector (agriculture/ horticulture) and whose main source of income is from agricultural labour activities.
 
It may be noted that due to the absence of a written rent/ lease agreement between a tenant farmer and a land owner, which is quite a common practice in the countryside, the former may not be counted as a farmer officially. So, suicide committed by such tenant farmer may not be recorded officially. Similarly, women farmers and tribal farmers, who often lack proper land titles, may not be enumerated as farmers officially. Hence, farm suicides by such persons may go unrecorded.

Since 2014, the NCRB in consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare (MoAFW) and Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) has been collecting suicide data separately for farmers and agricultural labourers. It is worth noting that due to change in methodology of NCRB's farm suicide related data collection and presentation, the data post-2013 cannot be compared with that of pre-2014 years.

References

Reply to Unstarred Question No. 4111 dated 20th March, 2018, Lok Sabha, please click here to access

Chapter-2A: Suicides in Farming Sector, Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India (2015), please click here to access
 
Death in the farmlands: Suicides in agriculture sector decline 32% in 2016, Business Standard, 8 April, 2018, please click here to access 

Big rise in farmer suicides in four states during 2016, says NCRB data -Sanjeeb Mukherjee, Business Standard, 23 March, 2018, please click here to access    

10% drop in farm suicides, 11,000 cases in 2016: Govt -Vishwa Mohan, The Times of India, 22 March, 2018, please click here to access 

Agricultural workers suicides rising, but 2016 data shows overall drop in farmer suicides, The Hindu, 22 March, 2018, please click here to access 

The slaughter of suicide data -P Sainath, Frontline, 21 August, 2015, please click here to access 

Image Courtesy: Inclusive Media for Change/ Shambhu Ghatak





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