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 FIRs. “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.”