Farmers Commission Report on Suicides

Farmers’ suicides in Punjab rose after 1992 and most victims were young, writes Sarbjit Dhaliwal in The Tribune, quoting a report prepared for ‘Punjab Farmers Commisson’ by ‘Institute for Development and Communication’

While tracing the main reasons behind suicides in rural Punjab, especially in the farm sector, it has come to light that the increase in the suicide rate showed a steep hike after 1992.

A report in this regard, which has been submitted to the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, and others concerned has been got prepared by the Punjab State Farmers Commission, a government organisation. The commission had engaged the local Institute for Development and Communication that had earlier prepared a report on the status of indebtedness in rural Punjab. The report, a copy of which is with The Tribune, states that in 1988, the general suicide rate in Punjab was 0.57 per cent and rose to 0.95 per cent in 1993 and 2.04 per cent in 2001. It came down to 1.38 per cent in 2005. The incidence of suicides in Punjab rose by 33.68 per cent in 1992 as compared to that in 1988. After this there was a sharp increase in the number of suicides in 1997. It increased three times over that in 1992. The number of suicides remained static till 2001 after which a decline started. The decrease in 2005 was 18.64 per cent over the 2001 figure.

However, these figures are based on data maintained by the Punjab Police. It does not reflect the true picture. The actual figure will be much higher because most of the suicide cases in rural Punjab are not registered by the police and shown as cases of natural death or death due to some disease.

In India, the incidence of suicides increased by 24.71 per cent in 1992 over that in 1988. After this there was a decline of 19.56 per cent from 1992-97. However, the number of suicides further declined by 2.16 per cent from 2001 to 2003 at the national level. In Punjab, the incidence of suicides increased in the post-terrorism period (1992-97).

There are six districts which have recorded a higher number of suicides vis-a-vis population. The districts include Faridkot, Bathinda, Ferozepore and Ludhiana, Amritsar and Hoshiarpur. However, the common perception is that the trend of suicides among farmers is more pronounced in the Sangrur belt. These six districts recorded 70 per cent of the total suicides that took place during 1998, 2001 and 2004. However, the total percentage of these districts in the population is only 45.

A vast majority of the suicide victims had small land holdings. In the non-farming sector, 75 per cent among those who committed suicide were landless persons. Most of the suicide victims were youth in the age group of 15 to 29. They were followed by middle-aged persons in the age group of 30-40. Their percentage is about 35. Most of the victims had a low literacy level. Among those who committed suicide, about 38 per cent were bachelors.

Though indebtedness, family disputes, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, mental tension and stress were stated to be suspected causes of suicide, on a deeper probe it was discovered that indebtedness played a role together with crop failure, poverty and family disputes to induce suicide among the victims.

The report says that indebtedness itself is a condition produced by the prevailing state of agricultural distress. This is evident from the soaring prices of agricultural inputs on the one hand and “unrealistic and unsustainable” prices, including the minimum support price of foodgrains. While input costs are going up, farm yields are on the decline on account of soil erosion, receding water table, etc. “In the ultimate analysis, therefore, the emerging political economy of agriculture and its development is depressing. In view of this, we are inclined to interpret indebtedness itself as a consequence of the problematic political economy.

Under the circumstances, the problem of farmers’ suicide can be better understood if its is viewed in the larger picture of the distressing political economy”, says the report.

In its recommendations, the report stresses the need for formulating new set of policies which can create conditions conducive to a harmonious social and economic existence among all sections of rural society. Those commission agents who are involved in the business of moneylending must be registered under the Money Lenders Act. There should be transparency in the accounting system. Farmers should be given a statement of every transaction. The present system of payment of value of their produce to farmers in cash is fraught with many malpractices. Farmers should be paid for their produce brought to the market through account-payee cheques.

All government agencies involved in the procurement of foodgrains should make payment direct to the sellers instead of any other party or middleman.

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