Farmers commit suicides in India’s developed states

22 Nov 2007, Vishwa Mohan & Nitin Sethi,TNN

NEW DELHI: Data derived from first information reports filed all over the country and compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau has revealed that it is the farmer in economically more developed states, not traditional BIMARU ones, who is the most vulnerable.

What the statistics bring out clearly is that the misfortune of living in states with scarce opportunities is not the most important trigger. Its not states like Bihar and UP which have the worst situations. States that do well on counts of industrialisation and development indices – Maharashtra, Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka – have the worst report cards. West Bengal, where land reforms are said to have improved conditions in the countryside, is not doing too well either.

In Maharashtra, 3,926 farmers committed suicide in 2005 alone. That is more than one-fourth of the total toll in the state. Andhra follows with 2,490. Karnataka reported 1,883. Surprisingly, unlike other “backward” states, Chhattisgarh reported a higher tally (1,412) than Tamil Nadu (1,255), Madhya PradeshP (1,248), Kerala (1,118) and West Bengal (965).

While the data – presented in statistical terms – does not touch upon reasons, it is easy to see worrying trends in states that have adopted the cash-crop economy extensively and have wide disparities in terms of urban-rural areas, as well as within rural areas. Vidarbha is a good example of regional disparity even as its largest city Nagpur, records an economic boom driven by construction. Despite Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s much-reported intervention, Vidarbha farmers remain economically crippled.

In comparison, backward states, with the exception of Chhattisgarh, are better off. So, UP with a huge 16.5% share of the population, accounts for only 3% of the national toll of all suicides, including those by farmers. The big state reported only 522 suicides in 2005. The figures for Orissa, Bihar and Jharkhand for the year, in that order, were 254, 124 and 39.

NCRB has come up with provisional figures for 2006 and these are gross figures for all states. The total numbers have risen, but the bare statistics can provide partial perspectives.

Due to the collapse of village economy, there is a collateral fallout in terms of ancillary workers and some of 18,759 people who committed suicides in 2005 in the worst-affected states are classified as self-employed, as different from being involved in a business or professional activity, might be victims of rural crisis.

Considering that NCRB records do not bring out “bankruptcy” as one of the major factors despite the fact about indebtedness forcing farmers to end their lives, the government needs to rework the classifications. Perhaps room may have to be made to factor in the role of loss of esteem that forces farmers to commit suicide.

Even tiny Puducherry had recorded 147 suicides by farmers in 2005. That is more than the number recorded in all other UTs put together. Similarly, there is Bengal which recorded 965 suicides, much higher than most of the states.

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