A recent district-wise survey that the Punjab government carried out has revealed that 132 farmers committed suicide in the past five years due to indebtedness or economic hardship.
The state revenue department carried out the survey on the basis of details received from deputy commissioners. The department then submitted a report to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who recently held a meeting in this regard with the deputy commissioners and other top bureaucrats. The government now plans to seek relief for indebted farmers from the Union government.
But Financial Commissioner (Revenue) Romila Dubey, who is monitoring the issue closely, said: “There are wide variations in the overall figures received from the deputy commissioners, the state police and some NGOs. The matter will be discussed within the state government again before any recommendation for relief is made to the Government of India."
A few months ago, the Movement Against State Repression (MASR), a Punjab-based NGO, reported that 1,445 farmers committed suicide in 93 villages under Moonak Sub-division of Sangrur district between 1988 and 2006. Based on this figure, MASR estimated the total number of farmer suicides in Punjab to be about 40,000 during this period, with an observation that an accurate survey might show a higher toll of 60,000.
But the government report says: “The list of victims are supported by affidavits from panchayats, almost all written in the same language as if in a prescribed format. Obviously, the estimates are vague and highly exaggerated. The lists seem to cover all deceased farmers who had taken loan and not exclusively those who committed suicide due to debts."
The government report also refers to another study conducted in 2006 by a Chandigarh-based NGO, the Institute of Development of Communication (IDC), which says the suicide rate in the rural population increased from 12.38 per lakh (total 1,993) in 2001 to 13.10 per lakh (total 2,292) in 2005. This gives an average rate of about 2,000 suicides per year in Punjab.
Interestingly, the state police department reported only nine cases of farmer suicides between 2002 and 2006. “The data supplied by the police appears to suffer from under reporting due to the social stigma attached to suicides and the fear of harassment by policemen,” the government report observed.