2012 SERP study of beneficieries of 421 GO

While there is pressure on the government to recognise the farmer suicides and support the affected families under 421 GO, the study done by Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) in 2012 shows that the situation of the families with this meagre support it self has not made much difference in the lives of the people. This is one of the largest sample study ever done.

Download the reports.

Farmer_Suicide data

lr. to Dist. Collectors on farmers suicides (1)

Report on Farmers suicide v4

Total District Abstracts 2012 serp data

The debt story less told

The Hindu, February 12, 2015, by K P Prabhakaran Nair

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/the-debt-story-less-told/article6887610.ece

Small and marginal farmers in rainfed regions are trapped in a losing battle with agriculture — and with life

The lot of the poor Indian farmer keeps deteriorating with the passage of time. According to the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data released on December 19, 2014, during the last decade, the bloated debt of Indian agricultural households increased almost 400 per cent Even the number of heavily indebted households has steeply increased during this period.

The report is titled Situation Assessment Survey of Agricultural Households in India, and is based on a national survey covering 35,000 households during 2012-13. Though the definition of an agricultural household has changed during the last decade, the basic features remain the same. The survey states that, on an all-India basis, more than 60 per cent of the total rural households covered in 11 States are in deep debt, though wide variations exist, ranging from 92.9 per cent households indebted in Andhra to 17.5 per cent in Assam. Loan patterns show it is 60 per cent institutional loans and 40 per cent non institutional loans. Moneylenders make up most of the non-institutional lenders.

Green revolution myth

Average debt per household is ₹47,000, while average income is ₹36,973 per annum. In 2002-03, India had 148 million rural households which increased to 156 million by 2012-13, a 5.4 per cent increase in a decade.

The data point to another disturbing trend. While average income from 2002-03 to 2012-03 increased by 318 per cent, most worryingly, total debt per household increased by 273.5 per cent during the same period, proving that while income from sale of agricultural products increased due to a price advantage during the last one decade, it has not translated into a reduction in rural indebtedness. Has the so-called green revolution really helped the poor and marginal farmer of India?

Benefits by way of better seeds or fertiliser input have been cornered by rich and affluent farmers in Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh, Andhra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The poor and marginal farmers of Bihar, Odisha and eastern Uttar Pradesh are in a miserable state. There are reasons to believe that indebtedness of rural agricultural households cannot be just 60 per cent, as shown by the NSSO survey, but perhaps as much as 70-80 per cent.

 

The enthusiasts of highly extractive agriculture, euphemistically called the green revolution, based on “high input technology” — very liberal, often unbridled, quantities of chemical fertilisers, very expensive hybrid or Bt seeds, copious use of irrigation water — kept proclaiming the “success” of this revolution. But the poor and marginal farmers , primarily in the vast rainfed areas of the country, were simply left out.

 

Their farms remained parched, while their debts soared. The Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, where Bt cotton failed miserably in parched rainfed fields and farmers in thousands took their own lives, unable to repay the loan sharks, became a global shame. Only where rich farmers had access to assured irrigation water coupled with unbridled use of chemical fertilisers could Bt cotton perform well.

 

PDS leakages

Many farmers are unaware of the minimum support price. And, often, these farmers resort to distress sale of their produce to clear the loans from moneylenders, obtained at exorbitant interest rates. In collusion with unscrupulous local traders and commission agents, government agencies delay procurement of grains by, in some cases, as many as 50-60 days.

The poor end up spending more than 50 per cent of their meagre farm income buying food for mere subsistence, while the government procured grain in the FCI godowns finds its way into the hands of corrupt officials, middlemen and grain traders.

Though the contribution of India’s agriculture to the country’s GDP is 18 per cent and it provides employment to more than 60 per cent of the total workforce of the country, if one goes by the NSSO survey, the country is heading towards a crisis in agriculture. The Prime Minister would do well to rethink his ‘Make in India’ strategy. These poor and highly indebted farmers, most with no formal education, cannot be allowed to migrate to congested urban areas to eke out a miserable, daily wage-earner’s life.

In Telangana, caught between life and debt

Ravi’s wife Yadamma now works as a farm labourer to support her sons. Harsha Vadlamani
Ravi’s wife Yadamma now works as a farm labourer to support her sons. (Source: Harsha Vadlamani)
Written by Sreenivas Janyala | Karimnagar |Posted: November 20, 2014 4:30 am

On the night of July 4, Korishala Ravi stepped out of his house that is right across a branch of the State Bank of Hyderabad in Kodakandla village of Medak district in Telangana. The 35-year-old farmer had applied for a loan to the branch three times but his plea was rejected each time, forcing him to turn to moneylenders. Few hours later, not too far away from the bank branch, he was found dead, his body hanging from a tree.

Ravi’s village is part of Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhara Rao’s Gajwale constituency. Rao had identified it to be developed as a model village.

On September 23, Polu Rajaiah, a 48-year-old landless farmer of Thotapalli village in Karimnagar district, got himself a hair cut and asked his wife to make his favourite curry. After lunch, he went to their field about one km away, drank pesticide and died. Rajaiah had been borrowing money, first to take two acres on lease, then another four acres, and to purchase seeds and fertilisers, but his maize crop had failed, leaving
him with a debt of Rs 3 lakh.

Since Rao took over as the chief minister on June 2, there have  been 79 farmer deaths officially recognised as ‘suicides’ in the newly formed state. Beera Ramulu, a farmer and RTI activist associated with NGO Rythu Swarajya Vedika, puts the number at more than 300. Most of these farmers died in Warangal (83), Karimnagar (40) and Medak (70) districts. However, Agriculture Minister P Srinivas Reddy says not all farmer suicides are related to crops.

Like most of the others, Rajaiah and Ravi were both tenant farmers, and they did not fit anywhere in the system designed to help and protect farmers — be it loan eligibility cards, crop loans, easy bank credit, farm-loan waiver scheme or agriculture subsidies — as they had no land to show as collateral. That left them at the mercy of moneylenders charging interest rates as high as 24 per cent per annum. Now their families have to prove the deaths were solely linked to their crops to be entitled to ex-gratia — another uphill battle.

On November 13, the RBI issued a circular to all banks on financing ‘Bhoomi heen kisan (landless farmers)’, as per an announcement in the Budget. Under it, landless farmers can form ‘Joint Liability Groups’ and avail of loans through NABARD for farm and non-farm activities, standing as guarantors for each other. The measure, it is believed, would go a long way towards resolving denial of loans to landless farmers. Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh has proposed financing at least 5 lakh joint farming groups this financial year.

Ravi’s brother Balanarasimha, a taxi driver, says Ravi’s loan applications were rejected because he didn’t own any land to show as collateral. “They asked for land ownership documents first to even consider the application,” he says. Ravi had taken five acres on lease to grow cotton, maize and paddy, of which two acres belonged to a relative who had already taken a loan on the land. The owner of the remaining three acres refused to give him a lease agreement, which would have made Ravi eligible for loan. State Bank of Hyderabad Kodakandla Branch Manager Sheikh Abdul Kareem says, “Farmers seeking loans have to give us a copy of the land title in his name, or, in case of tenants, a copy of the lease agreement signed by the owner. We cannot give loans if the documents are not clear or there is a dispute regarding ownership.” The Korakandla branch caters to nine nearby villages, with at least 7,000 farmers. Since January, it has given 500 new crop loans and rescheduled 700 old loans under the Telangana government’s crop loan waiver scheme, but the amount of loan given is very small. For cotton crop, it is Rs 20,000 while for paddy, it is Rs 18,000 per season. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) government in the state had announced a Rs 17,000 crore farm loan waiver scheme, to fulfill its poll promise. Under the scheme, outstanding amounts as on March 31, 2014 on crop loans up to Rs one lakh are waived off. This rescheduling of loans makes farmers eligible for fresh loans. The government order issued on August 13, however, clearly stated that the scheme covers only institutional loans and not loans from non-institutional sources. Ravi also tried to get a loan from Telangana Scheduled Castes Cooperative Finance Corporation Ltd through the bank, but the policy is still under discussion. Managing Director of the corporation B Jayaraj says once the budget is passed in the Assembly, the government will decide the loan and subsidy ratio. Admitting a “few inherent deficiencies”, State Bank of Hyderabad General Manager J Sitapathy Sarma says, “Denial of loans to landless farmers is a major issue and needs a change of policy which will make them eligible even if they are unable to show collateral.” He, however, insists that farmers must make an effort to at least get a loan eligibility certificate from the village or mandal revenue officer. The State Bank of Hyderabad is the convener of the State-Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC). Meanwhile, in order to meet their 18 per cent target fixed for farm loans, banks classify all kinds of loans under the agriculture sector. For example, the SLBC said in July that banks in Telangana had given Rs 49,564 crore loans to the agriculture sector in 2013-14. But when the state government sought details of the accounts of individual farmers who were given loans, SLBC revised the figure to Rs 12,000 crore on March 31, 2014. Banks were apparently also bunching agricultural loans with those taken by farmers for jewellery, marriages, and other non-farm expenses. There are many examples of farmers taking loans for digging or repairing bore wells and paying children’s fees. When crops fail, all these add to their loan burden. “Thousands of farmers are caught in a vicious cycle of debts due to low yields or total crop failure. There is constant pressure from moneylenders and when it does not rain and crops start failing, all they can think of is escaping it by taking their own lives,” says activist Beera Ramulu. TRS politburo member and Karimnagar MP B Vinod Kumar admits the plight of landless farmers who take land on lease. “We need far-reaching reforms in the lending process to include landless farmers in the credit system. In 2010-11, banks introduced business correspondents in villages to make the process of giving loans easier but the correspondents recommend only those who have something to mortgage,” Kumar says. With no options, Ravi had borrowed money from relatives and other villagers at 24 per cent per annum. Documents show he took two loans at 18 per cent interest each, to pay Rs 50,000 upfront to take five acres on lease, and two loans at 24 per cent interest each. “The yield of the maize crop was not good due to inadequate rainfall. The paddy also failed,” says Ravi’s brother. Ravi’s wife Yadamma now works as farm labour, earning Rs 100 a day to support her sons Shiva and Sai. Rajaiah never thought of approaching a bank although three — Andhra Bank, State Bank of Hyderabad and UCO Bank — have branches in Husnabad, 25 km from his Thotapalli village. “We don’t own even a small piece of land, bank officials do not even look at your application. He did not get the loan eligibility card so there was no point going to the bank,” his wife Komaramma says. In 2011, the AP Government introduced a system of giving loan eligibility cards to tenant farmers. Village Revenue Officers, tehsildars, Mandal Revenue Officers could issue the card to a tenant farmer after ascertaining that farming is his only profession, is a genuine farmer, and has taken land on lease. In the presence of the village sarpanch and witnesses, a gram sabha is held and the farmer is given the eligibility card. “But revenue officials are wary of giving the eligibility cards fearing that they will be held accountable if the farmer fails to repay although the government order states that it is not the responsibility of government officials. When officials verify and find that the farmer has some outstanding loan already, they don’t issue the card. This way the system has slowly stopped working and very few cards are given,’’ says RTI activist and member of Rythu Swaraj Vedika Kondal Reddy. In Mallampalli village of Mulug Mandal in Warangal, Merugu Achala, 21, works up to eight hours in a cotton field for Rs 100-130 per day. Her husband killed himself recently over pressure from moneylenders after their cotton crop failed. Achala borrowed Rs 15,000 recently to pay the school fees of her daughter and son, in Class I and kindergarten respectively. The loan outstanding in her husband’s name is already around Rs 1 lakh, but Achala is determined to keep her children in a private school. “My husband did not want them to work in the fields and wished they got proper jobs when they grew up. I too don’t want them to ever work in agriculture,” she says. – See more at: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/in-telangana-caught-between-life-and-debt/4/#sthash.CXKQ5uO9.dpuf

Does ‘No Pesticide’ Reduce Suicides?

  1. Lakshmi Vijayakumar

    1. SNEHA and Voluntary Health Services, Adyar, Chennai, India,dr_svk@vsnl.com
  1. R. Satheesh-Babu

    1. Mamata Medical College, Khammam, India

Abstract

Introduction: Ingestion of pesticides is the most common method of suicide, particularly in China, Sri Lanka and India. Reported pesticide suicides in India numbered 22,000 in the year 2006.z

Method: Four villages in the state of Andhra Pradesh in India that had stopped using chemical pesticides in favour of non-pesticide management (NPM) were visited to assess any change in suicide incidence before and after discontinuation of chemical pesticides. Four similar villages in the same region that continued to use chemical pesticides were used as controls for comparison.

Results: In the pesticide-free villages there were 14 suicides before introduction of NPM and only three suicides thereafter. The percentage of suicides not reported to authorities was 47%.

Conclusion: Restriction of pesticide availability and accessibility by NPM has the potential to reduce pesticide suicides, in addition to psychosocial and health interventions.

Vidharba: Massive response to ‘‘Samwad Yatra” – Distressed Farmers urged Govt. and Civil society to look at Despair

Samvad yatra yatra2 yatra3 yatra4 yatra5
Wanjari(vidarbha)-10th September 2013
VJAS  Activists  in agrarian crisis hit  Vidarbha region today started first phase of  a three-day rally, called“Samvad Yatra”, fromTuesday to counsel farmers who are on the verge of mental collapse after the monsoon ravaged their fields received massive response in crisis  ridden village from farmers ,local leaders ,farm widows and hundreds SHG farmers wives ,urging Govt. and civil society to communicate to us  and provide healing touch to these 3 million dying farmers as they are not keen in any special packages as they need restoration right to live with dignity and respect  as region is facing complete social and economic failure ,all emotions and hardships  are being documented and will presented to Govt. and civil society as we are taking this “Samvad Yatra” to all agrarian crisis ridden  district where acute distress and despair is forcing the farmers to kill themselves  and since 2005 more than 11800 farmers suicides have been reported and all relief packages amounting more than Rs.10,000 crore failed to stop the farm suicides  ,Kishor Tiwari convener of Samwad yatra informed today
In first samwad parishad which is part of yatra organized in village wanjari in kelapur taluka of yavatmal district where three farmers suicides  reported recently in last three month which was chaired by local Z.P. member Rokesh Nemanwar and sarpanch santosh bodewar ,KBC fame Aparna Malikar, farm activist mohan jadhav, suresh bolenwar, shekha joshi,nitin kamble  and other all farmers and farm widows  openly  complained that there is complete  collapse food security, NAREGA ,NRHM and farm credit  there is no communicable platform so that their hardship can be redressed and distressed farmers in isolation are killing themselves and massive crop failure this will fuel ongoing crisis and hundreds of farm suicides are feared to take place in relief aid is not given in time,warned village sarpanch santosh bodewar in the meeting.
Over the last three months, there have been reports of at least  200 farmers ending their lives following crop devastation coupled with a cessation of food, medical and credit aid from government agencies and problem of farmers committing suicide was not just political but “a social issue, and its complexity has to be understood in entirety being ignored and Govt  is adopting  piecemeal approach by shortsighted politicians is like administering vitamin injections to a person having cancerous tumour. The government does not want to see the  tumour but just wants to keep on giving feel-good hallucinatory herbs,” Tiwari he said.
Elaborating on the “Samvad Rally,” Tiwari said psychologists specialising in counselling would accompany social activists. “These counsellors specialise in handling distressed and depressed people. We want the farmers to take up the issue and fight for their rights,” he said.
“The situation is grim. It is like an epidemic. Last week there reports of 24 suicides from the Yavatmal district. The flood of suicide reports is concomitant with the heavy monsoon, something which the otherwise dry  Vidarbha faced this year after decades.”
The rally will conduct ground-auditing and prepare an assessment report, apart from video-taping conversations with farmers in street-corner meetings.
“We intend to send these video-tapes to the President, Prime Minister and National the Human Rights Commission… so that they can see for themselves the kind of human rights violation taking place every day, every minute,” said Tiwari.

2/3rd of farm suicides take place in 4 cotton-growing States

http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/industry-and-economy/agri-biz/23rd-of-farm-suicides-take-place-in-4-cottongrowing-states/article4889182.ece

K. V. Kurmanath

Hyderabad, July 6:

 

Two of every three farm suicides in the country seem to be taking place in four States where cotton is cultivated, mainly dryland areas.

Last year, 68 per cent of all the 13,754 farm suicides took place in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, indicating that perhaps financial stress was the reason.

About 70 per cent of cotton farming in these four States is done on dry-land. Agricultural scientists say that dryland is not suitable for water-intensive crops such as cotton. Farmers in Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana grow cotton in irrigated areas.

“Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have shown a rise in suicides of farmers by 13 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively, over the previous year. They account for 46 per cent of the 13,754 suicides in 2012,” G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, Executive Director of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, told Business Line.

“We can directly attribute the numbers to cotton farming in these States. You are growing it where you are not supposed to,” he said.

The CSA and Rythu Swarjya Vedika have released two reports on the stress in the dryland farming and in Andhra Pradesh. The reports are largely based on the numbers in the National Crime Records Bureau.

As many as 3,786 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra, 2,572 (19 per cent) in Andhra Pradesh, 1,875 in Karnataka (14 per cent), 1,172 (8 per cent) in Madhya Pradesh and 4,349 (32 per cent) in other parts of the country. The NCRB, attached to the Union Home Ministry, has been collecting crime data from across the country for the last two decades. In a span of 18 years (1995- 2012), it recorded suicides of 2.84 lakh farmers, including 35,898 in Andhra Pradesh. “Sharp increase in acreage of commercial crops, input costs and overall cost of production too have caused burden on the farm sector. The cost of production of cotton is very high in dry land areas, resulting in the financial stress. This has been proved time and again in the Vidarbha region and in Andhra Pradesh,” said Ramanjaneyulu.

Rehab package

He said the Governments should evolve a comprehensive relief and rehabilitation package to address immediate debt needs, release of land from mortgage, livelihood support, education of the children and healthcare needs of the family.

“We also need to revise the minimum support price to give them remunerative income. Timely procurement directly from farmers by government agencies too is important.”

kurmanath.kanchi@thehindu.co.in

Four cotton growing states records 68% of the Farmers Suicides: NCRB 2012 data shows

National Crime Records Bureau Report-2012 shows increasing agrarian crisis in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra

The latest report of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) shows that the total farmers suicides recorded during the year 2012 were 2,84,694 in the last eighteen years. NCRB started documenting the ‘Farmers Suicides’ as a separate category under self employed from 1995 onwards.

Four states Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh which are predominantly growing cotton in rainfed conditions records 68% of the farmers’ suicides. The two major states Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh have shown increase of 13% and 17% respectively compared over last year and together account for 46% of the total farmers’ suicides.

Farmers’ suicide rates soar above the rest

P. Sainath

http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/sainath/farmers-suicide-rates-soar-above-the-rest/article4725101.ece

Suicide rates among Indian farmers were a chilling 47 per cent higher than they were for the rest of the population in 2011. In some of the States worst hit by the agrarian crisis, they were well over 100 per cent higher. The new Census 2011 data reveal a shrinking farmer population. And it is on this reduced base that the farm suicides now occur.

Apply the new Census totals to the suicide data of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) and the results are grim. Sample: A farmer in Andhra Pradesh is three times more likely to commit suicide than anyone else in the country, excluding farmers. And twice as likely to do so when compared to non-farmers in his own State. The odds are not much better in Maharashtra, which remained the worst State for such suicides across a decade.

“The picture remains dismal,” says Prof. K. Nagaraj, an economist at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. Prof. Nagaraj’s 2008 study on farm suicides in India remains the most important one on the subject. “The intensity of farm suicides shows no real decline,” he says. “Nor do the numbers show a major fall. They remain concentrated in the farming heartlands of five key States. The crisis there continues. And the adjusted farmers’ suicide rate for 2011 is in fact slightly higher than it was in 2001.” And that’s after heavy data fudging at the State level.

Five States account for two-thirds of all farm suicides in the country, as NCRB data show. These are Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. The share of these ‘Big 5’ in total farm suicides was higher in 2011 than it was in 2001. At the same time, the new Census data show that four of these States have far fewer farmers than they did a decade ago. Only Maharashtra reports an increase in their numbers.

Nationwide, the farmers’ suicide rate (FSR) was 16.3 per 100,000 farmers in 2011. That’s a lot higher than 11.1, which is the rate for the rest of the population. And slightly higher than the FSR of 15.8 in 2001.

In Maharashtra, for instance, the rate is 29.1 suicides per 100,000 farmers (‘Main cultivators’). Which is over 160 per cent higher than that for all Indians excluding farmers. Such gaps exist in other States, too. In as many as 16 of 22 major States, the farm suicide rate was higher than the rate among the rest of the population (RRP) in 2011.

The data for 2011 are badly skewed, with States like Chhattisgarh declaring ‘zero’ farm suicides that year. The same State reported an increase in total suicides that same year. But claimed that not one of these was a farmer. What happens if we take the average number of farm suicides reported by the State in three years before 2011? Then Chhattisgarh’s FSR is more than 350 per cent higher than the rate among the rest of the country’s population.

In 1995, the ‘Big 5’ accounted for over half of all farm suicides in India. In 2011, they logged over two-thirds of them. Given this concentration, even the dismal all-India figures tend to make things seem less terrible than they are.

Ten States show a higher farm suicide rate in 2011 than in 2001. That includes the major farming zones of Punjab and Haryana. The average farm suicide rate in the ‘Big 5’ is slightly up, despite a decline in Karnataka. And also a fall in Maharashtra. The latter has the worst record of any State. At least 53,818 farmers’ suicides since 1995. So how come it shows a lower FSR now?

Well, because Census 2011 tells us the State has added 1.2 million farmers (‘main cultivators’) since 2001. That’s against a nationwide decline of 7.7 million in the same years. So Maharashtra’s farm suicide rate shows a fall. Yet, its farm suicide numbers have not gone down by much. And a farmer in this State is two-and-a-half times more likely to kill himself than anyone else in the country, other than farmers.

Karnataka, in 2011, saw a lot less of farm suicides than it did a decade ago. And so, despite having fewer farmers than it did in 2001, the State shows a lower FSR. Yet, even the ‘lower’ farm suicide rates in both Maharashtra and Karnataka are way above the rate for the rest of the country.

These figures are obtained by applying the new farm population totals of Census 2011 to farm suicide numbers of the NCRB. The Census records cultivators. The police count suicides. In listing suicides, the State governments and police tend to count only those with a title to land as farmers.

“Large numbers of farm suicides still occur,” says Prof. Nagaraj. “Only that seems not to be recognised, officially and politically. Is the ‘conspiracy of silence’ back in action?” A disturbing trend has gained ground with Chhattisgarh’s declaration of ‘zero’ farm suicides. (That’s despite having had 4,700 in 36 months before the ‘zero’ declaration). Puducherry has followed suit. Others will doubtless do the same. Punjab and Haryana have in several years claimed ‘zero’ women farmers’ suicides. (Though media and study reports in the same years suggest otherwise). This trend must at some point fatally corrupt the data.

At least 270,940 Indian farmers have taken their lives since 1995, NCRB records show. This occurred at an annual average of 14,462 in six years, from 1995 to 2000. And at a yearly average of 16,743 in 11 years between 2001 and 2011. That is around 46 farmers’ suicides each day, on average. Or nearly one every half-hour since 2001.

Over 2,000 fewer farmers every day

P. SAINATHThe mistaken notion that the 53 per cent of India's population dependent on agriculture are all farmers lead many to dismiss the country’s massive farmers’ suicides as trivial. Photo: AP

  • The mistaken notion that the 53 per cent of India’s population dependent on agriculture are all farmers lead many to dismiss the country’s massive farmers’ suicides as trivial. Photo: AP
  • The Hindu

The mistaken notion that the 53 per cent of India’s population ‘dependent on agriculture’ are all ‘farmers’ leads many to dismiss the massive farmers’ suicides as trivial

There are nearly 15 million farmers (‘Main’ cultivators) fewer than there were in 1991. Over 7.7 million less since 2001, as the latest Census data show. On average, that’s about 2,035 farmers losing ‘Main Cultivator’ status every single day for the last 20 years. And in a time of jobless growth, they’ve had few places to go beyond the lowest, menial ends of the service sector.

A December 2012 report of the Institute of Applied Manpower Research (IAMR) — a part of the Planning Commission — puts it this way: “employment in total and in non-agricultural sectors has not been growing. This jobless growth in recent years has been accompanied by growth in casualization and informalization.” It speaks of an “an absolute shift in workers from agriculture of 15 million to services and industry.” But many within the sector also likely moved from farmer to agricultural labourer status. Swelling the agrarian underclass.

So how many farmers do we have?

Census 2011 tells us we now have 95.8 million cultivators for whom farming is their main occupation. That’s less than 8 per cent of the population. (Down from 103 million in 2001 and 110 million in 1991). Include all marginal cultivators (22.8 million) and that is still less than 10 per cent of the population.

Even if you count together all cultivators and agricultural labourers, the number would be around 263 million or 22 per cent of the population. (Interestingly, this reduced figure comes after a few big states have actually reported a rise in the total number of cultivators. Since 85 per cent of all marginal workers reported more than a 100 days work, this could possibly reflect the reverse pull of MNREGA, among other factors).

Between 1981 and 1991, the number of cultivators (main workers), actually went up from 92 million to 110 million. So the huge decline comes post-1991.

Hold on: aren’t 53 per cent of the population farmers?

No. That’s a common fallacy. The over 600 million Indians dependent on agriculture are not all farmers. They are deployed in an array of related activities — including fisheries. This confusion is widespread and innocent.

Yet, there are also a few whose colossal ignorance leads them to dismiss the country’s massive farmers’ suicides as trivial. For instance: “at least half of the Indian workforce is engaged in farming. This fact points to a much lower suicide rate per 100,000 individuals for farmers than in the general population.” Note how easily those ‘engaged in farming’ become ‘farmers!’

As a notion it borders on the whacko. It goes: After all, 53 out of every 100 Indians are farmers. So our 270,940 farm suicides since 1995 are a low number on a population base of over 600 million. So low that we should be agitated over how the suicide rate in the general population can be brought “down to the levels prevailing amongst farmers.”

Never mind for now the appalling moral position that a quarter of a million human beings taking their lives is hardly alarming. The Bhopal gas tragedy, the worst industrial disaster in human terms, claimed over 20,000 lives. But in this perverse logic, since that was less than 0.003 per cent of the then population, it is rendered meaningless. That position says more about its authors than about the suicides. It shows they are clueless about who a farmer is — and about what the data show.

It shows even greater ignorance of who defines and counts a ‘farmer suicide.’ The Census records cultivators. The police count suicides. The police do not read the Census. Not for definitions, anyway.

The Census groups the population into workers and non-workers. The latter would be infants, children, students, housewives, unemployed, aged and retired people. Farmers, or cultivators come under ‘Workers’ — a huge category covering many varied groups. Now rural workers account for close to 70 per cent of all workers. And rural workers consist of farmers, agricultural labourers and non-farm workers.

Cultivators (main workers) in the Census are barely eight per cent of the population as a whole. (That’s after a two-decade secular decline in this group). The ongoing farm suicides — 184,169 of them since 2001 according to the National Crime Records Bureau — are taking place on a smaller and shrinking base. Their intensity has hardly diminished. In most of the States accounting for two-thirds of all farm suicides, the intensity has likely risen.

Of course distress affects a much wider population dependent on agriculture. (Farmer bankruptcies crush the village carpenter, and even play a role in weaver suicides). The sufferings of others are as real. It is not as if the agricultural labourer or non-farm worker is having a great time. Both sections have seen distress migrations — and suicides. (For that matter the owner of a small industrial unit in an urban city could be distress-hit). Their suicides are no less tragic. But it is vital to know who officially gets counted as a farmer. And who gets listed in the ‘farmers’ suicides. For that tells us more about the ongoing tragedy and gives us a sense of its awful scale.

Everybody who works in the film industry is not an actor. Everyone in the educational system is not a student. And all those in the 53 per cent of the population related to the farming sector are not farmers. Even among those who are, only a limited group gets counted as such when police and governments make farmers’ suicide lists. Cultivators are counted by the Census. Suicides are recorded by police stations across the country. The numbers collated by State governments. Very different approaches are involved.

The Census considers someone a cultivator if he or she operates a piece of land — which they may or may not own; State governments and police count only those with a title to land as farmers. The Census records two kinds of cultivators: ‘Main workers’ and ‘marginal workers.’ The latter are more like agricultural labourers or non-farm workers since farming is not their main activity. A ‘Main worker’ in cultivation is someone for whom that is the major occupation for at least half the year. That group makes barely eight per cent of the population as a whole.

Suicides among the others in the agrarian world (within that “53 per cent”) won’t be recorded as ‘farmer suicides.’ Try getting State governments and their police to do that! Even within the ‘recognised’ eight per cent, those whose title to land is not clear will not be listed as farmers’ suicides, should they take their own lives. For instance, women and tenant farmers are routinely excluded. Even eldest sons running the farms — with the land still in the names of their aged fathers — would also be omitted.

Police and State governments run the suicide lists, not the Census. Nor does the NCRB, which has neither the vested interest nor the ability to fiddle that data. It merely collates what the State Crime Record Bureaus submit to it. Hence, the Chhattisgarh government could brazenly declare a ‘zero farm suicides’ figure in 2011. That after the State saw over 7,500 of them (by its own admission) between 2006-10. With all the fiddles in the data, the numbers and intensity remain appalling.

Maharashtra revels in such fraud. With close to 54,000 since 1995, the State has been the worst in farm suicides for over a decade. And even those numbers conceal major exclusions. They’ve invented categories like ‘Farmer’s relatives suicides,’ or “non-genuine” suicides, in order to further trim the numbers. So the State governments and their police, have immense power in re-defining who a farmer is. Watch out for more and more States doing ‘a Chhattisgarh’ and declaring ‘zero’ farm suicides in coming months and years.