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:

Does ‘No Pesticide’ Reduce Suicides?

  1. Lakshmi Vijayakumar

    1. SNEHA and Voluntary Health Services, Adyar, Chennai, India,
  1. R. Satheesh-Babu

    1. Mamata Medical College, Khammam, India


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.

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

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.”

Farm suicides on the rise: AP

TNN | Jun 30, 2013, 12.33 AM IST

MAHBUBNAGAR: Excessive use of chemical pesticides, erratic rainfall, heavy debt burden, and spurious seeds are taking a heavy toll on farmers in the perennially drought-hit Mahbubnagar district.

As many as 20 farmers have committed suicide in the district in the last three months. They have taken the desperate step unable to bear the losses due to frequent crop failures or clear the mounting agricultural debts. Insufficient loan advances by banks and high interest rates collected by private moneylenders too have played their part in the sucides.

District officials refuse to admit the increasing instances of farm suicides, but don’t’ deny that Mahbubnagar district is “vulnerable” thanks to a combination of factors ranging from high consumption of pesticides and fertilisers to unpredictable climatic conditions. The authorities wait the post-mortem reports for disbursal of compensation.

On Saturday a tenant farmer, Venkataiah, 35, from Pervetipally of Upunuthala mandal committed suicide by consuming pesticide. Only a day before, a tribal-farmer, Shankar Naik (50) of Badrigani thanda of Veldhanda mandal, ended his life following crop loss. Last week, P Srisailam of Manganoor village of Bijinapally mandal took the same extreme path.

Srisailam borrowed Rs 4 lakh to cultivate his five acres of land but could not repay the loan as the crop failed.

Mahbubnagar agriculture join director KV Rama Raju blames farm suicides on the indiscriminate use of pesticides. “Farmers here spray pesticides in quantities more than required. They thus not only spend more money on pesticides, but end up in losses or get low yield as excessive spraying of chemicals change the texture of the soil”.

Rama Raju said farmers sowing cotton crop are the most vulnerable of the lot. They invest big amounts on things not needed. “Many farmers do not follow the advice of agricultural extension officers on the optimum use of fertilisers and pesticides,” he added.

The rate of suicide is relatively higher among farmers who grow non-assured crops like cotton than those who go in for crops like paddy and maize. Some crops bring in minimum profits, but the returns are guaranteed.

“Farmers in Mahbubnagar district are vulnerable,” admits district collector M Girija Shankar, though he evades a reply on the exact number of farmers committing suicide in the district.

The district administration has so far distributed Rs 25 lakh as compensation to the families of about 70 farmers who committed suicide, “The situation is grim in case of SC/ST farmers,” he said adding that distribution of compensation is often delayed for technical reasons.

Clinical psychologists point out that farm suicides are mainly a psychological problem. “Such deaths can be prevented or at least minimized if we counsel farmers at frequent intervals,” said Dr M Radha Krishna Rao, senior clinical psychologist.

Last year about 120 farmers committed suicide in the district. Many farmers could not take up cultivation last season as the monsoon played truant in the district even as the groundwater levels plummeted.

“The crop in our five acres dried due to lack of water. We incurred heavy losses. This forced my husband to commit suicide,” said G Yadamma of Govonipally village in Nawapet mandal. Her husband G Pentaiah (43) consumed a pesticide on June 30 finding no means to pay Rs 80,000 he borrowed from a private moneylender.

Half a dozen tribal-farmers committed suicide so far this season. Eraguntla thanda of Bijinapally mandal recorded four suicides. Govind (38), Deshya (30), Mnya (28) and Madhya (35) committed suicide in the last two months in the mandal. Ironically, these farmers could not procure loans from banks and had to approach private moneylenders to raise crops. “Private moneylenders are responsible for the death of my husband,” says Madavath Devli, the widow of Govind.

Farmers, who took up cotton cultivation are the worst hit in the district, said Balu Naik of Kalwakurthy. Many tribals have migrated to other parts of the country leaving their agricultural fields behind. K Krishna Reddy, district president of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, alleged that banks had stopped issuing fresh loans unless farmers clear the old dues. He said the crop insurance compensation for the year 2011 is yet to reach farmers.

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

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.

Jayati Gosh Commission Report on Farmers suicides in AP 2004

2004 jayati gosh Full_Report_Commission_Farmer_AP

Committee report submitted in 2004 by a committee appointed by YS Rajashekar Reddy to look into farmers suicides and recommend solutions.  However, important points of suggestions were never implemented

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.

Continue reading the main story

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.

Continue reading the main story

Lakhs and crores


“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.

Continue reading the main story

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

download the report Farmers Suicide in IndiaYASHADA

By Nachiket Mor2006 

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] and Professor Rajiv Lochan2 (mrajivlochan [at] 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.”