As farmer suicides dip, questions rise over data

A parched farm near Yadlapur village in Raichur district, Karnataka.

A sharp decline has been witnessed in farmer suicides in Karnataka – from 1,338 in 2017-18 to 845 in 2018-19. The dip in the suicide rate, according to the state government officials, is attributed to the loan waiver scheme introduced during 2017-18.

However, experts opine that the data may have been fudged, as agrarian distress has only worsened due to drought. Experts in the agriculture sector have also questioned the data collection method, saying that the reduced numbers did not reflect the ground reality.

According to the Agriculture Department, what the state witnessed in 2018-19 was the lowest number of farmer suicides in the last three years. Of the 845 suicides during the year, as many as 551 were due to crop loss and are being compensated.

Interestingly, the number also dipped below the 1,000-mark for the first time since 2014-15. But the trend was not the same, as suicides swelled during the subsequent months of 2018-19 after the initial euphoria over the waiving of loans subsided. As against 300 suicides in the first six months of 2018-19, deaths shot up to 540 during the second half of the year. 

Fudged data?

Disputing the data, R S Deshpande, noted economist and honorary visiting professor at the Institute of Social and Economic Change, contended that the government may have managed the number with elections in mind.

“When agrarian distress is high due to recurring droughts, suicide numbers cannot minimal,” he told DH, adding that only data from the National Crime Records Bureau could reflect the actual number of farmer suicides.

“Such data has been suppressed in the past. Since farm loan waiver is a major election plank this year, it may have been suppressed this year too,” he said.

Amrutha T Joshi, head of Agricultural Economics Department, University of Agricultural Sciences, Raichur, said that it was incorrect to link farmer suicides with loan waivers as it cannot directly prevent suicides.

“Problems faced by farmers have only worsened as many are forced to sell even their cattle. Ensuring support price for crops grown by farmers will have a better impact than loan waivers,” she said.

B Y Srinivas, Director of Agriculture, said there has been an overall decline in the number of suicide cases. “We are involved in confidence-building measures of the community, and are ensuring that all benefits of the state government reach them,” he said. 

Kodihalli Chandrashekar, president of Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, said that farmer suicides triggered by crop loss could only be solved by ensuring a permanent solution to the drought situation affecting them year after year.

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