With a figure of at least 14,027 in 2011, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the total number of farm suicides since 1995 has touched 2,70, 940. The State of Maharashtra shows a rise in numbers yet again, logging 3,337 against 3,141 farmers’ suicides the previous year (and 2,872 in 2009). This, despite heavy massaging of data at the State level for years now, even re-defining of the term “farmer” itself. And despite an orchestrated (and expensive) campaign in the media and other forums by governments and major seed corporations to show that their efforts had made things a lot better. Maharashtra remains the worst single State for farm suicides for over a decade now.
The total number of farmers who have taken their own lives in Maharashtra since 1995 is closing in on 54,000. Of these 33,752 have occurred in nine years since 2003, at an annual average of 3,750. The figure for 1995-2002 was 20,066 at an average of 2,508. Significantly, the rise is occurring even as the farm population is shrinking a fact broadly true across the country. And more so in Maharashtra which has been urbanising more rapidly than most. The rising-suicides-shrinking-population equation suggests a major intensification of the pressures on the community. A better understanding of that, though, awaits the new farm population figures of the 2011 Census — not expected for many months from now. At present both national and State-wise farm suicide ratios (the number of farmers committing suicide per 100,000 farmers) are based on very outdated 2001 Census numbers.
Big five States
The 2011 total gets dicey with Chhattisgarh’s posting a figure of zero farm suicides. A zero figure should be great news. Except that Chhattisgarh had 7,777 farm suicides in the preceding five years, including 1,126 in 2010. It has been amongst the very worst States for such deaths for several years. The share of the worst (Big 5) states (Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh) as a percentage of total farm suicides, is now around 64 per cent. Even with Chhattisgarh showing a ‘zero’ figure, that is not much lower than the preceding five-year average for the Big 5 of close to 66 per cent. It could be that Chhattisgarh’s figures have simply not made it to the NCRB in time. Otherwise, it means that the State is in fact a late entrant to the numbers massage parlour. Others have been doing it for years. Maharashtra since 2007, following the Prime Minister’s visit to Vidarbha. Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar has strictly avoided using NCRB farm data in Parliament since 2008 because the data are unpleasant. (The union government however quotes the NCRB for all other categories). Now, governments are deep into fiddling the data that goes from the States to the NCRB.
With the Big 5 also staring drought in the face, what numbers the coming season will throw up is most worrying. Within Maharashtra, Vidarbha and Marathwada have already been under great stress (which in turn pushes officials to step up data fiddles). If the numbers are re-calculated using the annual average of Chhattisgarh in the past five years, the national total of farm suicides for 2011 would be 15,582. And the share of the Big 5 (at 10,524) would be nearly 68 per cent. That’s higher than the five-year average for those States, too. In 1995, the first time the NCRB tabulated farm suicide data, the Big 5 accounted for 56.04 per cent of all farm suicides.
In 2011, five States showed increases of over 50 farm suicides compared to 2010. These included Gujarat (55), Haryana (87), Madhya Pradesh (89), Tamil Nadu (82). Maharashtra alone showed a rise of 196. Nine States showed declines exceeding 50 farm suicides, of which Karnataka (485) and Andhra Pradesh (319) and West Bengal (186) claimed the biggest falls. That, of course, after Chhattisgarh, which claimed a decline of 1,126, with its zero farm suicides figure in 2011.