Narendra Modi has in his poll speeches blamed the UPA government on more than one occasion for farmer suicides while admitting to just one such death due to agrarian reasons in 10 years in Gujarat. But an HT investigation has established his claim to be false.
Copies of FIRs, last declarations by farmers and internal records of the state police accessed by HT reveal at least 54 farmers in Gujarat committed suicide in the last decade, either due to crop failure or debt.
The state government’s admission of just one farm suicide stands exposed by a letter written by one of its own officers. On January 28, 2007, Meera Ramniwas, then DIG, CID and Railways, wrote to the assistant registrar (law), National Human Rights Commission, admitting to at least 30 suicides in 2003-07 due to agrarian reasons. For the 2008-13 period, FIRs accessed by HT revealed 24 farmer suicides.
Two weeks back, a war of words had broken out between the Aam Aadmi Party and BJP on the subject. AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal had told a rally in Varanasi, where he is taking on Modi, that 5,874 farmers had committed suicide in Gujarat in the last 10 years. “This is a blatant lie... The fact is, only one farmer has committed suicide due to crop failure in the last 10 years,” the state had countered.
Kejriwal’s figures were derived from the National Crime Records Bureau, which records all farmer suicides irrespective of reason.
HT’s investigation shows farmers killed themselves in Saurashtra, north Gujarat, Kutch and even Vadodara, the chief minister’s second parliamentary seat. A senior official in Gir Somnath district told this reporter that many a times, reasons are not recorded in FI Rs. “We have unofficially been told by the home department not to record farmer suicides,” the officer said.
“The number of suicides due to agrarian reasons could be higher if all FIR copies and police records are checked thoroughly,” added Bharatsingh Zala of the NGO Cranti, which has done extensive research on farmer suicides.
“There are no suicides in Gujarat due to agrarian reasons or crop failure,” insisted state agriculture minister Babubhai Bokhiria. “The allegations are completely false. Farmers have committed suicide either due to family disputes or other reasons.”
Asked to respond to police records that point to the contrary, he said, “All this discussion about farmer suicides in Gujarat is a conspiracy of the Congress and AAP. After Modi came to power, the water table has increased and there is tremendous development of the people in the entire region.”
(Contrary to claims made by the Gujarat government that only one farmer committed suicide in the last 10 years HT has documents that at least 54 farmers killed themselves for agrarian reasons. HT travelled to Gujarat to get first-hand accounts of families of farmers who were forced to take the extreme step after their crop was destroyed. An RTI application was also put with the union ministry of agriculture to source state data on farmer suicides. Gujarat reported ‘nil’ in its report to the ministry. Here are case studies from our findings.)
Uka bhai Barad, Dhamrej village, Gir Somnath district
Date of suicide: October 16, 2012
Uka Bhai, 61, was a marginal farmer with a just four acres of land. He and his family were dependent on this land for livelihood. In 2011, the crop had failed and they had lost whatever they had invested. Next year again, Uka Bhai took loans hoping for better weather conditions, but the result was no different.
“When the crops failed again in 2012 there was no money even to buy food. My father had stopped talking to us few days before he committed suicide. He was completely devastated,” said Dilip Bhai Barad, 35, youngest son of Uka Bhai, adding, “We did not get any help from the government.”
The FIR filed by Sutrapada police station states the reason of suicide to be failure of groundnut crops. On the night of October 15, Uka Bhai told his family he was going to the fields to keep a vigil on stray animals. He consumed poison and killed himself instead.
Ranjit Barad, Dhamrej village, Gir Somnath district
Date of suicide: August 30, 2012
On the morning of August 30, Ranjit Barad, 31, left his house for the fields and promised wife Rasila ben Barad, 30, he would be back soon. He even told her to get ready as they were to attend a relative’s funeral. But Ranjit had no money even for the bus ride that would take them to the funeral.
“I was getting worried waiting for him. But he never came back. Soon, I was told he has hanged himself from a tree in the field,” Rasila ben said. As crops had failed, there was no income and so no money to repay the loans.
The first information report (FIR) filed by Sutrapada police station, states that the reason of suicide was the failure of groundnut and BT cotton crops. “We had taken loans of about Rs. 50,000 from bank and had mortgaged my jewellery for Rs. 1 lakh. Ranjit knew that he will never be able to get back my jewellery as the crops had failed. He used to blame himself for losing my jewellery,” lamented Rasila ben.
Rasila ben is worried as she has to still repay the bank loan and take care of her children. “I have two children and there is no one to take care of them. If crops fail again, I don’t know what will I do,” she said.
Girish Bhai Parmar, Kotdapitha village, Amreli district
Date of suicide: August 27, 2011
“If the government had helped us that year when our crop failed, my son would have been alive today,” said an ailing Laabhu ben Parmar, 69, mother of Girish Parmar.
Girish, 25, was the youngest of four brothers and was responsible for agricultural purchases. “My son was very efficient and used to deal with the shopkeepers and traders,” said Laabhu ben.
In the first week of July 2011, Parmars had sown BT-cotton over nine acres but it failed because of incessant rains. A few days later, in mid August, they sowed the same crop again. But the result was no different. “It was double crop failure. Girish was shattered and became restless,” said Laabhu ben.
On the morning of August 27, he went to the fields and hanged himself inside the vadi (store room) near the fields. When Girish committed suicide, the family had a collective loan of more than Rs. 2 lakh from the bank and nearby seed shops. Even after three years, they are struggling to repay it.
The Babra police station, under the right to information (RTI) act, admitted that the suicide was a result of cotton crop failure.