Agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh told Parliament on Friday farmers were committing suicide over reasons such as love affairs, dowry and impotence apart from financial crisis, handing the Opposition fresh ammunition to attack a government already facing the heat over its land and agrarian policies.
Singh was responding to a lawmaker who sought an explanation on more than 1,400 farmer suicides in the country since last year, with financial debt, long droughts, poor yields, and unseasonable rains battering the agricultural community.
“According to the National Crime Records Bureau, causes of (farmer) suicides include family problems, illness, drugs...dowry, love affairs and impotency,” said the minister’s “unstarred” reply in the Rajya Sabha. An “unstarred” reply refers to a written statement the government must provide in response to any questions asked by MPs.
Singh’s statement came just months after party colleague and Haryana agriculture minister OP Dhankar called farmers committing suicide “cowards”.
“Any farmer committing suicide is running away from his responsibilities, leaving behind his burden on his innocent wife and children,” Dhankar had said. “Such people are cowards. No government can stand by them.”
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who was in Andhra Pradesh as part of a nationwide campaign to court voters in the backwoods amid growing rural resentment over the Centre’s proposed land reforms, advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ask his ministers to visit the houses of farmers to “see what is going on”.
Falling rural wages and poor rains for a second straight year have stoked a crisis in many states as data show farm income rose only 0.2% in 2014-15 compared to a 3.7% rise in the previous year.
Samajwadi Party leader Naresh Agrawal demanded an apology from the minister, terming his remarks “irresponsible”, while the CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury described as "ridiculous" the reasons cited by the minister.
The number of suicides committed by farmers attributed to “agrarian distress”, the cause the government recognises to be farm-related, in 2012, 2013 and 2014 stood at 1,066, 890 and 1,400 respectively. The figure up to June this year was 263, the minister’s reply said.
Facing criticism, Singh attempted to clarify the issue by saying the answer was based on a report by the NCRB, which the government cites in its replies.
According to the “Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2014” report released by the bureau, overall 5,650 farmers committed suicide in 2014, which also includes such deaths triggered by non-agrarian reasons.
The maximum cases were reported from Maharashtra, Telangana and Chhattisgarh, official data revealed. Of the 5,650 farmers who took their own lives, 5,178 were men and 472 women.
Bankruptcy and family problems were major causes behind the suicides, accounting for 20.6% and 20.1% of the deaths respectively. Other causes included crop failure at 16.8% and illness at 13.2%.