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.

 

Farmers’ suicide rates soar above the rest

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.

Indian farmers and suicide: How big is the problem?

By Wesley Stephenson, BBC News, January 23, 2013

WidowThe widow of an Indian farmer who killed himself

India has been taking steps to address the high number of farmers in India who are killing themselves. The figures are shocking, but are they any higher than in India as a whole?

Since the 1990s, farmer suicides in India have made headlines.

The high number was first noticed in the state of Maharashtra and then the media began reporting it happening in other parts of India.

A series of government inquiries followed, looking into the causes of farmers’ suicides, an issue which has come to the fore again in the last 18 months.

Last year, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said it was a serious issue with many factors responsible, and he said the government was increasing investment in agriculture and raising minimum prices of crops to increase farmers’ income.

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More or Less: Behind the stats

Listen to More or Less on BBC Radio 4 and the World Service, or download the free podcast

Campaign groups claim the suicides have been caused by food speculators manipulating cereal prices, and GM companies who are selling expensive cotton seeds and fertilisers.

They say that in order to buy GM seeds, some farmers get into unmanageable debt. Others are crippled by fluctuations in food prices. And when the going gets too tough some decide the only way out is to take their own lives.

But what do the figures say and how accurate are they?

Influential investor Jim Rogers said in a recent debate on the BBC that millions of Indian farmers have killed themselves over the past few years because they couldn’t make a living.

The official figure is actually 270,000 since 1995. Mr Rogers said he saw the figure in the newspapers, so it seems likely he misread a lakh – a unit which in South Asian represents 100,000 – as one million, which is a common mistake because it is often written as 1,00,000.

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Lakhs and crores

Rupees

“A lakh is 100,000 of anything,” explains Anish Ghosh, maths professor at the UK’s University of East Anglia. “Once you have, say, 100,000 rupees or 100,000 geese you have a lakh.”

But the way it is written can be confusion. In South Asia, 100,000 is written with two commas: 1,00,000. “It’s quite possible that someone who isn’t familiar with it is going to think it’s a bigger number or there has been a mistake in the publication,” says Prof Ghosh.

To further confuse the uninitiated there is also the crore or 100 lakh. This is written 1,00,00,000. So the Indian version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” has a crore as a prize.

The technical term for the person who has a crore is a crorepati (in Hindi the film Slumdog Millionaire was Slumdog Crorepati).

Although he was wrong, this does not make the official figures any less shocking. According to them, farmers in India are killing themselves in their thousands every year. The latest government figures show 14,000 farmers took their own lives in 2011.

But a huge study of suicides in Indiapublished last July in the UK medical journal, the Lancet, found these figures under-report the problem and suggests there were 19,000 suicides in 2010.

“The official statistics in India rely on the National Crime Records Bureau, basically what are police reports of suicide,” says Prof Prabhat Jha, one of the study’s co-authors and the director of the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto.

“Suicide is a taboo subject, and suicides of young women that have just been married are actually reportable, and investigated by the police. When we sent survey teams to the household and they know the survey teams they’re much more likely to report a suicide.”

But the one thing that is missing in the way these figures have been reported is any context. It is important to remember that a lot of people live in India and there are a lot of people working in agriculture. Prof Jha says it’s important to compare this with other areas of Indian life.

“We estimate in 2010 close to 190,000 suicides, so of all the suicides occurring in India, that would suggest [farmer suicides] are only about 10%.”

Indian farmer

According to figures from the UN, agricultural workers make up just over 20% of the population.

Another way to look at this is to consider the overall suicide rate in India. Using figures from Professor Jha’s findings and population figures from the UN, the suicide rate in India is around 15 per 100,000. The suicide rate among agricultural workers is around seven per 100,000.

This may seem like splitting hairs – if attention is being drawn to the problem, then perhaps the numbers can be brought down and that would be a good thing – but resources are finite and there are other groups that could benefit more from the help.

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image of Soutik BiswasAnalysisSoutik BiswasIndia correspondent

Suicide has become the second leading cause of death among the country’s young adults, after road accidents in men, and childbirth-related complications in women.

Prof Jha says the over-emphasis on agricultural deaths means another vital area isn’t being addressed.

“While farmer suicide is important in India, the main reason for suicide deaths is occurring at younger ages, particularly around the time that young adults join the workforce or get married, and it’s really this context of social pressure that is most associated with suicide, not farming.”

Comparisons between age groups and professions is problematic, because there will be some crossover between the two. However, one of Prof Jha’s co-authors, Prof Vivek Patel from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, says he believes the crossover will be minimal.

Unfortunately the study does not have a breakdown of suicides by other professions, so no direct comparisons can be made. But it is clear that although farmer suicides are higher than anyone would want to see, they are not extraordinarily high in comparison to India as a whole.

New perspectives on farmer distress and farmer suicides

By ifmr

I recently had an opportunity to read an interesting book on farmer suicides in the Yavatmal district of Maharashtra by Secretary Health Meeta Rajiv Lochan1 (meeta29 [at] hotmail.com) and Professor Rajiv Lochan2 (mrajivlochan [at] hotmail.com). This book was first published in 2006 by the Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration at Pune3.

The book was written in the aftermath of the spate of farmer suicides that were widely reported from Yavatmal district of Maharashtra during the five year period from 2000 to 2004. The book cites data from the State Crime Records Bureau of Maharashtra (SCRB) which shows that during this period the annual average for Yavatmal was 773 with between 25 to 30% of them being farmers. The authors point out that even though in terms of SMR (Suicide Mortality Rate = Suicides per 100,000 population) neither the District nor the State standout4, these numbers were considered highly unusual because they were directly comparable to the total for Mumbai (1100) while the population in the entire Yavatmal District at 2.45 million was only about a quarter of Mumbai’s population and because of the sharp rise over the last three decades in both the total number of suicides5 as well as the proportion of farmers (and housewives) impacted6. Since both the authors are very familiar with the manner in which government works, they were able to go the most appropriate sources for the data they needed. The book as a consequence has a good deal of carefully collected background information on whole issue of suicides as well as on Yavatmal which is well worth reading. For the book the authors interviewed the families of all of the farmer suicides that were reported by the local administration during the period January 1, 2001 to December 31st, 2005 – a total of 399 cases.

One of the principal lessons that they draw from their work is that: “It has been presumed until date that rural indebtedness is the root of all trouble. This postulate may not be entirely correct, as we shall see in the discussion that follows. Writing off rural debts is not, we submit the correct strategy to deal with the issue since debt was not the problem in the first instance.” The authors feel that seeing indebtedness as the cause is both convenient and stereotypical (the “rapacious moneylender”) which is why it is often the favoured choice. The authors also feel that the existing studies (they specifically refer to the ones carried out by TISS7and IGIDR8) did not adequately understand and analyse the data and the cases and quickly rushed to pronounce indebtedness caused by poor agricultural performance as the principal cause of distress leading to suicides9. The authors’ own examination of Yavatmal cases suggests to them that “even when debt existed it was factors other than debt, where were important for making the farmer a victim of suicide”.

From a study of the productivity patterns in Yavatmal they find that for cotton and for pulses (the other major cash crop for Yavatmal) the wide variation in annual productivity is not a recent phenomenon but exists right from the 1960s10, leading them to state that: “Might this suggest that production tribulations are part of the agricultural cycle and that change in it would, while affecting the finances of a farmer in the short run, not depress him enough to resort to suicide?”

After reviewing the existing studies they carefully examine each one of the 399 cases. They find that from a statistical point of view that neither caste nor marginal landholdings as a factor stand out thus suggesting to them that the data is not supportive of the popular view that marginalisation was a key factor. In terms of debt they find that about half the farmers had taken loans from informal sources and about three quarters from institutional sources11. They also found that only about a quarter had paid their institutional loans fully, 10% had paid partially, and about 40% had defaulted entirely. Of the 148 suicide cases that comprise the 40% they found that only in two cases that coercive action had been taken by the bank for the recovery of its dues. Others had received demand notices and were amongst the thousands to whom such demand notices were routinely sent12. Based on their analysis the authors state that: “How burdensome these demand notices were felt to be is anybody’s guess just as the issue of the seriousness with which a loan is repaid is an open question.” After examining all the cases for the various factors likely to be causing stress to the individual who committed suicide, the authors conclude that even where families were indebted it is not obvious that the financial stress was the principal trigger13. For example while studying cases of families that has large expenditures on healthcare, the authors conclude that, “In all these cases, families had large outstanding loans to pay out but there was also a large amount of social distress [unrelated to the debt] such that it is difficult to see that loans had much of a role to play in the tragedy that happened.”

Based on the extensive research that they carried out the authors conclude that there are two underlying problems that, in their opinion, seem to underpin all of the cases and appear consistent with the statistical data that they examined:

1. A very average low income of Rs.2500 per acre which was simply not enough to meet the requirements of farmer households. In their view it is the absence of adequate income rather than indebtedness that was at the root of most issues.

In order to address this, the authors favour direct cash transfers over other indirect subsidy mechanisms which have a serious risk of capture or being misdirected.

2. An extremely high level of isolation both from his / her fellow villagers as well as with the government machinery. Even in a popular movement like the SHG (self-help group) movement, while a few states have somewhat higher rates of participation, in Maharashtra participation in SHGs was as low as 5% at the household level. The authors were surprised to discover how few were the numbers of farmers (only 25%) that had any familiarity with concepts such as MSP (Minimum Support Price), or crop insurance. On this issue the authors conclude as follows: “Most farmers also did not belong to any formal registered body like a registered famers’ society or self-help group. Even fewer take any help or advice from these voluntary associations. Might this suggest the farmer to be a relatively lonely individual struggling against overwhelming odds? Without any help or back up support?”

In order to deal with this the authors strongly recommend that enhancing the frequency of “…physical interaction between government functionaries and village society by insisting on more tours, night halts, and gram sabhas by officers at all levels of the administration.

For those of us that are interested in the development of rural areas and have been particularly troubled by the whole suicide issue this book is a must read. The painstaking efforts by authors both to document each and every interview they have done as well as all of the statistical data they have gathered and presented, make this book also a very good reference book of a great deal of value to every library.

  1. The book was written when she was Director, Maharashtra State Institute of Rural Development.
  2. He is a Professor of Contemporary Indian History at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie
  3. “Farmer Suicides: Facts and Possible Policy Interventions”. The original book was published in 2006 but I referred to the 2010 Kindle Edition that was available from Amazon.
  4. The authors find that while Maharashtra has an SMR of 14, in Kerala it is 33, and in Japan it is as high as 40.
  5. From a total of 70 in 1975 to 613 in 2005 with SMR rising from 1.55 in 1962 to 9.34 in 2000.
  6. The authors find that the proportion of farmers and agricultural labourers rose steadily from a level of 18.57% in 1975 to 53.83% by 2005.
  7. Ajay Dandekar et al, “Causes of Farmer Suicides in Maharashtra: An Enquiry”, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, 2005.
  8. Srijit Mishra, “Suicides of Farmers in Maharashtra”, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, 2005
  9. The authors find for example that in the TISS report a case on a loan of Rs.100,000 has been included in which the default had occurred 17 years prior to the date of the suicide and one on a loan of Rs.13,000 in which the default occurred 13 years ago.
  10. “In 1960-61, the earliest year for which we have data available [on the productivity for cotton], it was 103 kg/ha. Then it slumped to 47 in 1961-62, went up to 97 kg/ha in 1963-64, and went down to 63 kg / ha in 1966-67 and so on.”
  11. An interesting factor that they find is that: “Yavatmal has had a long history of interest rates of 25% [per season] (sawai) which are referred to as far back as the nineteenth century. In our study, we found that rates charged [by informal sources] varied from 3-5% per month to 25% per season (sawai) or 50% per season (dedhi)”. “A hundred years ago the district gazetteer said that the cultivators in Yavatmal district ‘almost always prefer to borrow from a money lender, paying perhaps twelve per cent interest, rather than from Government at six per cent. The chief reason seems to be that there is still great delay in getting money from the Government, or at least so the people think. It is also believed that certain subordinate servants of Government extract irregular fees while inquiries are made…” Is there a certain lesson in this for us even today?”
  12. The cooperative banks between them had send over 73,000 demand notices during the period from June 2004 to June 2005 and there were about 55,000 Revenue Recovery Cases of the District Central Cooperative Bank in the district.
  13. “Essentially what the empirical data shows is that the issue of rural indebtedness is a red herring. There is very little evidence of the pressure of loans being responsible for the suicide.”