Grave situation

Grave situation

The National Crime Records Bureau’s report on farmers’ suicides in the country for 10 years from 1997 is a matter of serious concern, especially for five states including Karnataka. The other states which have seen high levels of suicides are Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. They form a contiguous ‘suicide belt’ and account for about 67 per cent of the farmers’ suicides in the country. Almost two lakh farmers committed suicide from 1997 to 2008, resulting in a dismal national average of one death every half an hour. A more worrying finding is that the trend steadily got worse during the period. While the first five years saw 55,769 deaths in the five states, the next five years saw the figure rise to 67,054. Many more farmers cultivating cash crops took their own lives than those cultivating food crops. There was a marginal fall in the numbers in 2008 when loan waivers were announced, but the overall trend has continued to be grim. In Karnataka the number of suicides marginally fell from 13,569 in 1997-2002 to 12,118 in 2003-2008 but this is poor consolation. The situation could have got only worse with last year’s drought and floods.

The rising numbers are specially significant because the farmers’ population is shrinking in the country. Migration of farmers to other professions is a worrying sign for a country of the size and population of India, and the higher suicide rate among the remaining farmers tells a story of deterioration of their condition. The reasons for the suicides remain the same. Debt traps, failure of the monsoon  or drought, commercialisation of agriculture, rise in input costs and failure of farm prices to increase correspondingly, declining productivity of land, lack of alternative income during lean seasons and the inability of governments to increase investment in agricultural infrastructure are some of them. Most of these are systemic and could not have been mitigated by a one-time loan waiver. And the problem of debt to the moneylender, bigger in size and more dangerous, still remains unresolved.

The crises attending the farming sector have to be comprehensively addressed to tackle the worsening social and economic challenge posed by farmers’ suicides. The human aspect of suicides grabs attention when individual cases of death come to light. But they are soon forgotten. For every farmer who commits suicide there may be 100 others facing the same problems. GDP growth stories are unreal for that real India.

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