The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has released data on accidental deaths and suicides in India. According to the report, 12,602 people engaged in the farm sector committed suicide in 2015, 2% more than in 2014. This highlights the growing distress in rural India thanks to consecutive years of drought and other natural calamities.
The report shows that the share of farm suicides in total number of suicides has increased from 8.7 to 9.4% when compared with the data of 2014; while there is a 7% increase in the number of farm suicides compared to 2013 when 11,772 farm suicides were recorded. In fact the number is highest since 2012 as many states reported these deaths since then.
One of the interesting trends from the data is that seven states -- Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu -- reported a high number of suicides and the proportion is increasing every year.
In 2015, the number of farm suicides in these states comprised 87.5% of all farm suicides in the country. It was 68.4% in 2011.
WHAT AILS INDIAN AGRICULTURE?
HIGH INPUT COSTS: The escalating costs of cultivation and land leasing coupled with the absence of minimum price and lack of access to loans and other inputs has been contributing to the mounting rural farm crisis.
LACK OF POLITICAL WILL: There is no dearth of recommendations but there is a lack of political will to rescue the farming sector by recognising it as the primary livelihood support for the millions of the rural families.
THE WAY FORWARD
Income assurance for cultivators and compensations and rehabilitation for the families in distress should be taken up as immediate and long term strategic solutions for addressing the crisis.
The farmers must have an income guarantee mechanism on the lines of employee income commissions.
In the last 20 years, 3,21,428 farmers have committed suicide. Many studies had found that the crisis had hit their families badly. But there are many problems to identify such families and extending support to these families to overcome the crisis of losing the bread winner and pay back huge debts.
Very few states had evolved support mechanisms for helping these families to revive and restore their livelihood support systems.
Telangana and Andhra Pradesh have increased the compensation for farm suicides from Rs 1.5 lakh to Rs 6 lakh and Rs 5 lakh respectively.
Some other states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have also evolved monetary and other support systems for families affected by suicides.
Instead of setting up another panel to look into the problems of farmers, the Centre must act on existing recommendations and take concrete steps for a farmers’ income commission and support families of those who have committed suicide.
P Raghu heads the Land and Livelihood Knowledge Activist Hub at ActionAid India
The views are personal