Of 2,990 dead, 65% were in debt
The annual income and debt ratio has swelled to 4.57 in Sangrur and 7.75 in Bathinda
This means that if people spend their entire income in repaying loans, it’ll take them 4.5 years in Sangrur and 7.75 years in Bathinda to pay back the debt
In the last nine years, 2,990 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide in the two districts, part of the cotton belt, the study said. Majority of them, around 87 per cent, were small farmers. Officially, only 132 such suicides have been recorded.
Taking note of farmer suicides in Punjab, the state government had last year asked Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana to collect data on the numbers of deaths between 2000 and 2008. A pilot study was conducted in Sangrur and Bathinda districts and the report recently submitted to the government. It will take more than three years to study and put together the findings for the whole of the state.
Taking about the difference in the figures put out by the government and the study, economist Lakhwinder Singh Gill said. “We’ve remained confined to sample surveys. It is for the first time that a door-to-door study has been done and it has brought to fore the ground reality no other methodology can.”
In Bathinda, 773 farmers and 483 labourers killed themselves and the toll in Sangrur was 984 farmers and 650 farm hands. Around 65 per cent of the suicides were due to debt, while the study attributed the remaining 35 per cent to “other reasons”.
Farmer organisations have dismissed the “other reasons” cause. “In these 35 per cent cases, indebtedness may not be the direct reason, but in many, it was the outcome of the agrarian crisis,” Jagmohan Singh, press secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta), a farmer body, said. Of the 2,990 dead, 37.89 per cent were agriculture labourers.
“Labourers have been killing themselves for a long time, but the debate has focused on farmers only,” said Lachchman Singh Sevewala, general secretary, Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, a body of farm workers. The crisis facing the farm sector, and not debt, had forced farm hands to kill themselves, he said.
The collapse of traditional farming and the public distribution system had left them at the mercy of whims of the market. Indebtedness is less common among farm hands than farmers. They don’t have assets offer as a guarantee for loans, and they don’t get loans easily.