More agricultural workers committed suicide in 2016, but the overall number of suicides in the farm sector dipped almost 10% in comparison with the previous year, according to provisional data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) that the Agriculture Ministry shared with Parliament on Tuesday.
Overall, 11,370 people in the farming sector committed suicide in 2016, in comparison to 12,602 the previous year.
From 2014, the NCRB has been dividing the sector into farmers or cultivators, and agricultural labourers. The 2016 data shows that the plight of labourers appeared to be getting worse, with a 9% increase to 5,019 suicides in 2016 in comparison to 2015.
On the other hand, 6,351 cultivators committed suicide in 2016. That was a 20% drop from the previous year.
As this is provisional data, the NCRB has not yet published the cause of suicides. However, in his reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, the Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Parshottam Rupala said that bankruptcy, indebtedness and farming-related issues were listed as the major causes of suicides in the sector for 2015. “The government is aiming to reorient the agriculture sector by focusing on an income-centeredness in addition to a pure production-centeredness approach,” he said.
Maharashtra, which saw massive farmer protests earlier this month, remained the worst affected state, with 3,661 suicides — a rate of more than 10 farmers per day.
However, the State has stemmed the rising rate of suicides, showing the first dip in three years. Karnataka, which is second on the list, saw a worsening situation, with the suicide figures spiking more than 30%. Some states, including West Bengal and Bihar, have reported zero farmer suicides. A senior official from NCRB said such anomalies would be taken up with states before the data was published, but in the end, the central body was dependent on the states to report figures accurately.
Farmers organisations said the input costs needed to be controlled by government in order to reduce distress in the agrarian community. “The government must control the price of seeds, or give seed rights to farmers,” said Mohini Mohan Mishra, national secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh, a farmers group affiliated to the Sangh Parivar. He attributed the improvement in Maharashtra to the policies of the current BJP-Shiv Sena government in encouraging farmers to shift away from the BT cotton crops in the Vidarbha area.
The All-India Kisan Sabha, a Left-backed farmers movement, felt that farm loan waivers were critical in order to relieve distress, but could not be seen as a permanent solution. AIKS joint secretary Vijoo Krishnan emphasised that all input costs -- seeds, fertilisers, equipment -- needed to be price-controlled and farm credit needed to be made available at lower interest rates.