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
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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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.
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%.”
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.
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.
download the report Farmers Suicide in IndiaYASHADA
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.
- The book was written when she was Director, Maharashtra State Institute of Rural Development.
- He is a Professor of Contemporary Indian History at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie
- “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.
- 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.
- From a total of 70 in 1975 to 613 in 2005 with SMR rising from 1.55 in 1962 to 9.34 in 2000.
- 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.
- Ajay Dandekar et al, “Causes of Farmer Suicides in Maharashtra: An Enquiry”, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, 2005.
- Srijit Mishra, “Suicides of Farmers in Maharashtra”, Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, 2005
- 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.
- “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.”
- 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?”
- 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.
- “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.”
A decade after Bt cotton was approved, it remains mired in controversy
First Published: Tue, Oct 02 2012. 10 06 PM IST
Changed preferences: Farmers in Khamba used to cultivate groundnuts, but switched to cotton in mid-1990s. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Mumbai/Nagpur, May 20 (IANS) The dowry system is driving many farmers of Maharshtra’s Vidarbha region to suicide, a fact which was brought into national focus Sunday on ‘Satyamev Jayate’, Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan’s popular show.
In an interview on the show, Usha Ashtekar, 25, spoke about how her father borrowed from a money-lender but had to repay the loan even before he could get Usha married.
‘My father took a loan from a money-lender to get me married. But before he could do so, the money-lender made my father repay the loan by using force. Worried about my marriage plus the bad condition of our farm, he committed suicide two years back,’ Usha told IANS from her village Sakra in Pandharkawada tehsil of Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district.
‘later, my brother and mother took another loan and spent over Rs.3 lakh on my wedding, bowing down to the needs of my in-laws. But it was all in vain as their demands kept increasing. I had to return to my mother’s home in only three months as I could no longer bear their torture,’ she added.
Usha, who has been married for over a year, is still staying at her mother’s home and prays that her husband will call her back some day.
‘Usha is one of the many cases that have met a similar fate. According to a survey done by the Maharashtra government in 2006, out of 20 lakh households in Vidarbha, around 4 lakh households had daughters of marriageable age,’ said Kishor Tiwari, President of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), a farmers advocacy group.
‘But most of these girls did not get married due to lack of resources. The survey also said that the entire credit chain of these farmers was disturbed as they had to use the loan money in their daughters’ marriage instead of using them for betterment of their farms,’ Tiwari said.
Tiwari pointed out that there has been no such survey in the last six years and that VJAS is planning to demand for a similar survey.
‘It is inhuman to ask for dowry, as those seeking dowry are themselves aware of the grave crisis in Vidarbha,’ Tiwari said.
Saturday, May 19, 2012 AT 04:30 AM (IST)
अमरावती – शेतकऱ्यांच्या आत्महत्या थांबाव्या यासाठी विविध स्तरांवर प्रयत्न केले जात आहेत; तरीदेखील आत्महत्या थांबण्याचे नावच घेत नसल्याची गंभीर स्थिती आहे. चालू वर्षाच्या 135 दिवसांत शेतकऱ्यांच्या आत्महत्येचा आकडा 300 च्या घरात गेल्याची धक्कादायक माहिती आहे.
विशेष म्हणजे, गेल्याच महिन्यात विदर्भाच्या 6 जिल्ह्यांत 82; तर मे महिन्यात आतापर्यंत 14 शेतकऱ्यांनी जीवनयात्रा संपविली. 2001 पासूनच शेतकऱ्यांच्या आत्महत्यांची मालिका विदर्भातील अमरावती, यवतमाळ, अकोला, वाशीम, बुलडाणा तसेच वर्धा या सहा जिल्ह्यांत सुरू झाली होती. 2005 साली या 6 जिल्ह्यांत 445 शेतकऱ्यांनी आत्महत्या केल्याने पॅकेजची घोषणा करण्यात आली. शासनाने शेतकऱ्यांसाठी विविध योजना हाती घेण्याच्या घोषणा केल्या. तथापि, 2006 साली 1,449 शेतकऱ्यांनी आत्महत्या केल्याने हे प्रकरण अधिकच गंभीर झाले. शेतकऱ्यांच्या आत्महत्या रोखण्यासाठी मुख्यमंत्र्यांचे 1,075 कोटी रुपयांचे पॅकेज तसेच पंतप्रधानांचे 3,750 कोटी रुपयांचे पॅकेज शासनाने जाहीर केले. या पॅकेजचा निधी 2010 मध्ये संपला. मात्र, शासकीय आकडेवारीवर नजर टाकली, तरी ज्या कालावधीत पॅकेजचा निधी होता व शेतकऱ्यांना विविध योजनांचा लाभ दिला जात होता, त्याच कालावधीत सर्वांधिक आत्महत्या झाल्यात. या 5 वर्षांत तब्बल 6 हजार 26 शेतकऱ्यांनी आपली जीवनयात्रा संपविली.
यावर्षी अमरावती जिल्ह्यातील 1,981 गावांची आणेवारी 50 पैशाच्या आत आहे. बुलडाणा जिल्ह्यातील 1,419 पैकी 747 गावांची आणेवारी 50 पैशाच्या आत आहे. त्यामुळे विभागातील या 2 जिल्ह्यांतील एकूण 2,728 गावांत दुष्काळ आहे. या स्थितीतही दुष्काळ निवारणासाठी करावयाच्या कामांना अद्याप वेग आलेला नाही. केवळ उपाययोजना आखण्यात आल्याचे सांगितले जाते. त्यामुळे येत्या काही दिवसांत पावसाचे आगमन झाल्यावर दुष्काळावर उपाययोजना करणार काय, असा प्रश्न विचारला जात आहे. गतवर्षी पिकांची स्थिती दयनीय झालेली होती. शेतकऱ्यांना त्यांच्या शेतमालाचा योग्य मोबदलादेखील मिळालेला नाही. कापूस, सोयाबीन सोबतच आता हळद, कांदा पिकालादेखील भाव मिळत नसल्याची गंभीर स्थिती आहे. विदर्भात सिंचनसोयींचा अभाव हेच पिकांची दयनीय स्थिती होण्यास कारणीभूत असताना या गंभीर विषयाकडे येथील पुढारी लक्ष देण्यास तयार नाहीत.
74 शेतकरी अपात्र
आत्महत्याग्रस्त 6 जिल्ह्यांमध्ये 300 शेतकऱ्यांनी आत्महत्या केली, तरी त्यातील 74 शेतकरी अपात्र ठरविण्यात आलेत. त्यामुळे त्यांच्या कुटुंबीयांना कोणताही शासकीय लाभ मिळणार नाही. 48 शेतकरी पात्र ठरलेत. 178 प्रकरणे चौकशीसाठी प्रलंबित आहेत.
शेतकऱ्यांच्या आत्महत्या (शासकीय आकडेवारी
2006 – 1,449
2007 – 1,247
2008 – 1,148
2009 – 1,005
2010 – 1,177
2001 ते 2012 – 8,520 आत्महत्या
(शासकीय आकडेवारी )
जानेवारी ते आजपर्यंतच्या आत्महत्या
यवतमाळ – 69
अमरावती – 68
अकोला – 52
बुलडाणा – 49
वाशीम – 32
वर्धा – 30
2012 तील आत्महत्या
जानेवारी – 65
फेब्रुवारी – 64
मार्च – 75
एप्रिल – 82
मे (आजपर्यंत) – 14
OFFICIAL DATA OF FARMER SUICIDE
2006 – 1,449
2007 – 1,247
2008 – 1,148
2009 – 1,005
2010 – 1,177
2001 ते 2012 – 8,520
FROM JAN.2012 AS ON TODAY FARMERS SUICIDES DISTRICT WISE
YAVATMAL – 69
AMARAVATI – 68
BULDHANA – 49
WARDHA – 30
FARMERS SUICIDES IN 2012 MONTH WISE
FEB. – 64
MARCH – 75
APRIL – 82
MAY (AS ON TODAY) – 14