Over 11,000 suicides in agriculture sector in 2016: NCRB data adds to distress debate
Data on farmer suicides for 2016 that has just been released shows that 11,379 people in the agriculture sector committed suicide that year, with 6,270 of them being farmers and the others, agricultural labourers.
The number (11,379) is the lowest in 16 years, but the delay in the release of the data, the absence of a critical piece of information -- the reason for the suicide -- and the fact that the number of suicides among labourers has increased from 4,595 to 5,109 may mean that the data doesn’t resolve the debate on farm distress.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which works under the aegis of the ministry of home affairs, released the Accidental Death and Suicides in India (ADSI) report for 2016 late on Thursday. The report has come with a significant time lag, like the Crime in India report for 2017 which was released last month. While ADSI contains detailed information on accidental deaths and suicides in India, its most awaited statistic is on farmer suicides in the country, which have become an indicator of the severity of farm distress to many.
The ADSI did not give a break-up of suicides for farmers and agricultural workers until 2014. To be sure, suicides in the farming sector have been going down in the current decade. (See Chart 1)
The reduction notwithstanding, the 2016 ADSI report is likely to create a controversy over the role of farm-distress as a driver of suicides in the farming sector. This is a bit ironical as the previous ADSI report had helped resolve this controversy. Here’s why.
While many people believed that farmer suicides were the most macabre manifestation of the agrarian crisis in India, there was (and is) another view which that farmer suicides were not necessarily a result of economic distress.
In 2015, the then agriculture minister said in the Rajya Sabha that myriad reasons including family problems, drug use and impotency were driving farmers’ suicides in the country.
Official statistics helped resolve this conundrum, as the NCRB started giving reasons for suicides for various professions from 2015. The data showed that economic reasons were a bigger trigger for farmer suicides than among non-farmers, and that the problem was particularly acute in certain states.These facts were highlighted ed in a 2017 Mint article by this author. (See Chart 2)
The 2016 ADSI does not give this information. In fact, both the 2014 and 2015 reports had a separate sub-chapter on farmers’ suicides, which is not present this year.
The lack of this information can revive the controversy around salience of economic distress for suicides among farmers.
“The time lag in releasing the report (ADSI) and lack of information on causes for farmers’ suicides, which was given in previous reports, is questionable”, said Vijoo Krishnan from the All India Kisan Sabha.
“The fact that suicides among agricultural workers have increased from 4595 to 5109 shows that they were adversely affected by drought and MGNREGS did not help them. Demonetisation also had an adverse affect on them”, he added.