Published: 19th March
Written: Ronak Pol
Farmer suicides in India are rising within a declining farm population. In recent years farmer suicide has been one of the most critical issues in the Indian political landscape. This is not a surprise in an agrarian economy like India, where 48.9% of the population is dependent directly or indirectly upon agriculture.
Studying reasons for farmer suicide has both economic and political implications. A majority of Indian consumers complain about inflation only when onion and vegetable prices go above the acceptable levels. At the same time, politicians are always present to discuss the inefficiency of the government whenever a farmer suicide is reported. Although this political awareness has not significantly affected the rate of farmer suicide in the country.
In this article, we will understand the reasons for farmer suicide as explained through government data.
NCRB reports that more than one lakh persons committed suicide every year in India during the decadal period from 2004 to 2014, while a total of 5,650 farmers have committed suicides during 2014, accounting for 4.3% of total suicides victims in the country. Focussing on farmer suicides as a share of total suicides in India misleads. For one thing, the total number of suicides (all groups, not just farmers) is increasing — in a growing population. Two, an all-India picture disguises the intensity. Another important thing to note is that the total number of suicides associated with the farming sector is more than twice as much. A total of 12360 persons involved in farming sector committed suicide in the year 2014. Of this 6710 were agricultural labourers and 5,650 farmers.
The devastation lies in the Big 5 States. Maharashtra, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka accounted for 89.5% of the total farmer suicides (5,056 out of 5,650) reported in the country during 2014. Maharashtra reported the highest number of farmer suicide accounting for 45.5% (2,568 out of 5,650) of the total farmer suicide in 2014. This makes farmer suicide one of the most pressing issues for politics in Maharashtra.
Land holding status of farmers who committed suicide revealed that 44.5% and 27.9% of victims were small farmers(having 1 hectare to below 2 hectares of land) and marginal farmers(having less than 1 hectare of land) respectively, they together accounted for 72.4% (4,095 out of 5,650) total farmer suicides. The suicide composition by land holding helps us evaluate any policy that is targetted to help farmers. Any severance package (like the one in 2008) that does not understand that majority of small farmers do not have access to formal credit will not be able to reduce suicides because of bankruptcy.
The next important thing to understand is the cause wise distribution of farmer suicide in India.
Bankruptcy or Indebtedness, Family Problems and Failure of Crop are major causes of suicides, accounting for 20.6%, 20.1% and 16.8% respectively. But taking a closer look at these problems one can realise that the three are highly linked. A well-devised loan waiver accounting for proper remittance and needs of the small and marginalised farmer holds the potential to save the farmers life. While a direct cash transfer where the farmer is allowed to choose how he spends might be a better idea. Although such a solution has the potential for enormous problems, primarily deciding the split of income transfer.
Farmer suicide is undoubtedly a critical issue in India, mainly in the state of Maharashtra. The state government needs to devise a policy that can help in effective allocation of funds to the farmers. This policy needs to understand the financial needs of the farmer in question and address some of the barriers involved in the funds reaching its targeted recipient.
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