Garibi Hatao, Kishan Bachao Farmer Suicides: An Ugly Blot On UPA
There are three ways for a nation to acquire wealth. The first is by war, as the Romans did, by plundering their neighbours. This is robbery in a real term. The second is by commerce, which is generally cheating. The third is by agriculture, the only honest way, wherein man receives a real increase of the seed sown into the soil with toil, in a kind of continual miracle, caused by God for him, as a reward for his innocent life full of hardships and his virtuous industry. But it is terribly distressing to note that the farmers who feed the nation are committing suicide due to being heavily in debt. The National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB’s) latest report on “Accidental Deaths & Suicides in India” places the number for 2010 at 15,964. That brings the cumulative 16-year total from 1995 to 2,56,913—the worst-ever recorded wave of suicides of this kind in human history. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, whose state has the worst figures for the 10th consecutive year, has stopped quoting NCRB figures since 2007. Maharashtra posts a dismal picture with over 50,000 farmers killing themselves in the country’s richest state in that period. It has remained the worst state for such deaths for over a decade , despite the much-hyped Prime Minister’s relief package. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh follow closely, with two third of farmer suicides being reported from these states. But the question is: Is more number of suicides being reported simply because there are more people in agriculture? According to the latest NCRB annual report of 2010, general suicides in the whole country increased 15 per cent between 1999 and 2010, but the population of the country increased 18.5 per cent in the same decade. This means that there is an actual annual decline in the general suicide rates. But in the same period, the farmers’ population declined as more people had to walk out of agricultural fields. But the suicide rate rose steeply till they are double of the non-farmers’ in the main states. The despair has deepened over the past year with 18 of the 28 states reporting more suicides. The farmer suicide graph has been rising steadily. We all know that agriculture has been the base and source of livelihood in all our diverse cultures. The globalised era which we are now a part of has evolved from a million year-old agrarian society. But the question that needs to be asked is: in spite of conducting several scientific-based research studies in the country, why is there still no effective intervention in boosting agricultural produce? Are social scientists a part of the proceedings? Why are they not offering recommendations to intervene and help ease agricultural distress?
The large number of suicides by farmers in various parts of the country has been perhaps the most agonising phenomenon observed in India over the last decade. These suicides, which reached their nadir in certain pockets of the country, were first picked up and reported by the alert media around in the late 1990s. The public concern that these reports led forced some of the state governments like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to set up enquiry commissions to go into this phenomenon in the respective states. However, some critics opine that the data bases that either the media or these enquiry commissions depended on might be somewhat uncoordinated and sporadic. They were based on data collated by activist sources like the Kisan Sabhas, or small scale surveys conducted by the enquiry commissions. But it cannot be gainsaid that while the extremely useful role that the media and the enquiry commissions played in informing the public about this distressing situation had to be recognised, these efforts were often dismissed—as the products of fevered imagination of some journalists and social activists. So, there was a need to probe the issue by utilising a data source which would provide a comprehensive, nation-wide picture. Against this backdrop, the annual publication of “Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India’’, brought out by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, assumes significance. The data are compiled from the police records furnished to the NCRB by the chiefs of police of all states/UTs and mega cities. The farmer is desperate but nothing significant is being done to help him. If this is not a burning issue, then what is it? Why does a farmer commit suicide? Is he a coward? Certainly not. There are two major reasons that drive him to the extreme step. One, crops on lakhs of acres are lost due to natural calamities, and excess or deficit rainfall. Two, increase in the cost of fertilisers and pesticides. The government can exercise better price control to provide relief to the farmer. In a country where policymakers claim to champion the cause of farmers, over a quarter million farm suicides in the last 16 years are shameful. That the Prime Minister’s relief packages have had no impact and could not arrest the trend show how the Yojana Bhawan and the Krishi Bhawan live in a make-believe world of their own. The situation calls for a radical rethink of our agrarian policies.