Dubious farmer suicide figures
With agrarian distress being a major crisis accounting for thousands of farming lives every year, the latest data by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which claims the suicide rates among Indian farmers has halved, has triggered derision, with experts calling it a “hoax” and “manipulative”.
According to the NCRB’s first collated detailed data on farmers’ suicides, only 5,650 of them, including women, across the country, committed suicide in 2014 as against 11,744 in 2013.
According to the NCRB report released earlier this month, Maharashtra recorded the highest number of farmers’ suicides (2,568) followed by 898 in Telangana and 826 in Madhya Pradesh, while West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar and Jharkhand reported zero suicides.
Experts, though, term the report faulty and accuse the central and state governments of resorting to manipulation to “try and cover up” the agrarian crisis.
Magsaysay-award winning journalist P. Sainath commented “significant manipulation” in the report, pointing to the NCRB’s changed data collection process wherein it has not considered agricultural labourers as farmers.
“Confronted with a growing agrarian crisis, with mounting misery, the government is trying to get around it by fiddling with numbers. There is significant manipulation,” Sainath said, adding that more states have declared “zero” farm suicides than ever before.
The Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS), a Maharashtra based farmers rights group, said the farm suicides have actually gone up as reflected by the NCRB report itself.
“Contrary to the NCRB claims that farmer suicides constituted just 4.3 percent of total suicides as against nine percent in 2013, farm suicides have actually gone up,” VJAS president Kishor Tiwari said.
“The report itself says that 12,360 agricultural suicides have taken place. However, it has not considered the 6,710 agricultural labourers who committed suicide as farmers,” Tiwari explained.
“Is it believable that not a single farmer committed suicide in West Bengal, Rajasthan or Bihar? There have been regular reports of such deaths from these states. The report has been deliberately fudged, that is why they have not even bothered to get it audited,” Tiwari maintained.
Tiwari said the VJAS was mulling legal action over the faulty report.
“There is no other way but to seek legal recourse. We have moved the NCRB seeking details about the basis of the new methodology and we are awaiting that report. After due analysis of their report, we will chalk out our course of action,” Tiwari added.
Besides the faulty methodology, some others attributed under-reporting by the state governments as another major reason behind the anomaly.
“So far as farmers’ suicides are concerned, the NCRB data is unreliable because of systematic under-reporting with several of high farmers’ suicide states reporting zero suicides,” said Maitreesh Ghatak, a professor at the London School of Economics.
Ghatak said the definition of farmer that includes only those who own and work on field and excludes agricultural labourers was a major anomaly that provided ample scope to tweak the figures.
As per the report, “bankruptcy or indebtedness” was a major cause, accounting for 20.6 percent of farmers’ suicides across the country followed by “family problems” (20.1 percent).
The other prominent causes were “farming related issues” (17.2 percent), “failure of the crop” (16.8 percent) and “illness” (13.2 percent).
Incidentally, West Bengal, which has reported zero farmers’ suicide, has accounted for 230 suicides by agricultural labourers. The ruling Trinamool Congress, however, refused to admit agrarian distress as the reason behind the deaths.
“The NCRB report vindicates our stand. But as regards the suicides by agricultural labourers, according to our findings, in almost all the cases the reasons have been other than those related with agricultural indebtedness,” said Labour Minister Purnendu Bose. “Almost all the suicides have been due to marital discords or other familial or social issues,” he added.
Claiming the NCRB report was part of a deliberate attempt by the central and the state governments to suppress agrarian distress, the Communist Party of India-Marxist said it will raise the issue in parliament.
“Thanks to this fabricated data, the Narendra Modi government is making claims of bringing down farmers’ suicides. This is nothing but a farce. Farmers’ suicides are continuing unabated and this government cannot remain in denial. We will raise the issue in parliament,” CPI-M Lok Sabha member from Bengal Mohammad Salim said.