news Tuesday, July 21, 2015 - 05:30
  From 2013 to 2014, farmer suicides in India have halved, but farmers’ groups and activists are not rejoicing. Severely criticizing the government, they say that the authorities have merely come up with disingenuous categories which are designed to move the deaths from the columns that record farmers’ suicides to ones that rule them out. In its Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India report for 2014, the National Crime Records Bureau’s said 5,650 farmers killed themselves, which is less than half of what it was the previous year – 11,744. In 2012, the number was 13,754. This drastic reduction in the figure, farmers’ groups and activists say, is not because fewer people are killing themselves. Convener of the Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture Kavita Kuruganti told The News Minute that the government’s categorization was designed to obfuscate the figures, starting with its definition of who a farmer is. Landless farmers The single-biggest reason for the number coming down by half is the categorization of data. In 2013, the ADSI recorded “farming / agriculture” suicides, and says: “The suicides committed by persons self-employed in agricultural activities do not necessarily means suicides committed by farmers only”. However, there is no definition of farmers in the report. In 2014, the ADSI recorded farmer suicides as 5,650, and listed 6,710 suicides by agricultural labourers separately, defining farmers as those ‘who own and work on field (viz. cultivators) as well as those who employ/hire workers for field work/farming activities’, and clearly specifying that this did not include agricultural labourers. Hence, they are listed in the section which disaggregates suicides by profession. A farmer by definition is one who owns a minimum of 2.5 acres or 1 hectare of land, and 50 percent of whose income comes from the farm. Farmers who own less than this quantum of land are classified as agricultural labourers. Tenancy laws in Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh prohibit leasing land except to widows, the disabled and servicemen. Tenant farmers in these states are likely to be excluded from the number of farm suicides in these states. “It is to be remembered that most of the farmers who commit suicide are those who do not have land registered in their name. If the NCRB misses out on this lot, then the number of farmer suicides is obviously going to be less than the actual figures,” she says. This is complicated by the fact that a landless farmer is ineligible for bank loans and is forced to borrow from private money-lenders, making them highly vulnerable to unforeseen circumstances such as vagaries of the climate which affect the crop. Obfuscating categories The NCRB lists 11 main causes for farmer suicides – poverty, property dispute, marriage-related issues, family problems, farming related issues, illness (including mental illness), drug and alcohol addiction, fall in social status, bankruptcy or indebtedness, unknown causes and other causes. Some of these such as illness and marriage-related issues, have sub-causes. Of the above, two causes claimed the most lives – bankruptcy or indebtedness (20.6 percent) and family problems (20.1 percent). The report does not explain what it means by family-related problems, although it has categorized 1,135 deaths as due to that cause. “How will the NCRB categorize a farmer who failed to repay a loan for his son’s education because of crop failures, as a family-related suicide or a farm failure case?” Kuruganti said. Outlining another hypothetical situation, Kuruganti said: “When we talk about farmer suicide, we miss out on those who died due to heart attack or depression because of farming failures.” Crop She also said that it was important to record which crops farmers who killed themselves were cultivating. “It is to be noted that cash crop producing farmers outnumber those who grow other crops, in committing suicide.” The outcome of cash crop is highly dependent on import-export prices and so the risk involved is also high, she said. “It is also important to know that never in the history of India has an organic farmer committed suicide,” she said. Organic farming does not involve expenditure on seeds, fertilizers, and pesticide, largely eliminating the need for loans. The real picture   Director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture GV Ramanjaneyulu said that in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the centre investigates every farmer’s death that is reported by the media, and keeps an eye on the situation.  Kuruganti also said that a special committee must be formed to investigate every farmer’s death. Unless that is done, the real picture will not emerge. She said that after the deaths are reported, a review committee of the local police is sent out to investigate the deaths, by which time, different versions of what happened would be circulating. She said that the government must acknowledge that a problem existed. “By providing complicated classifications or by simply combining all family related problems into one, the government fails to reach the root cause of the issue,” she added.
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