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Nearly 1.5 lakh farm suicides from 1997 to 2005

P. Sainath

Nearly 1,50,000 Indian farmers committed suicide in nine years from 1997 to 2005, official data show. While the suicides occurred in many States, nearly two-thirds of such deaths were concentrated in five States where just a third of the country’s population lives. This means that farm suicides occurred in these (mainly cash crop) regions with appalling intensity.

The five States are Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh (including Chattisgarh) and Kerala. Of these, only Kerala showed no sustained increase in the number of yearly farm suicides over this period. That was mainly because of a decline after 2003, which was that State’s worst year. Maharashtra, for which data exists from 1995, is by far the worst-hit. Farm suicides there more than trebled from 1083 in 1995 to 3926 in 2005.

Suicides as a whole rose nationally in the 1997-2005 period. But the rate of increase in farm suicides was far higher than the rate of increase in suicides by non-farmers. In Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, the percentage increase in farm suicides were more than double the increase in non-farm suicides in this period.

While suicides by non-farmers went up by 23 per cent in the Big Four States, farm suicides went up by 52 per cent. Indeed, these States might be termed the “Suicide SEZ” or “Special Elimination Zone” for farmers this past decade. In 1997, these States accounted for 53 per cent, or just over half of all farm suicides in the country. By 2005, it was 64 per cent.

That is, in less than a decade, their share of farm suicides, already disproportionately high, leapt to nearly two-thirds.

These and other grim findings emerge from a comprehensive study of official data on farm suicides by Professor K. Nagaraj of the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS).

The data analysed by him were drawn from various issues of Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India.

This is a publication of the National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. The period covered by the study is from 1997-2005.