Letter to Speaker, Lok Sabha on Rural-Suicides in Punjab

To: Sri Somnath Chatterjee, Speaker, Lok Sabha
New Delhi

Sub: Debt-related rural suicides in Punjab.

Dear Sri Chatterjee,

Farmers and farm labourers of Punjab are under heavy debt, which according to Government figures is more than double the debt than in any other state. Crushing debt is driving them to take their own lives. Causes for the past 30 years downward spiral into debt are many but a major part of the blame falls on an inequitable cost/price structure established by the Centre.

We are listing here seven estimates of the number of suicides in Punjab and one of Moonak Sub-Division of District Sangrur. As you will see the numbers range from a mere handful for the past seven years to several thousand. Formulating effective policies requires accurate data. Before fair and workable scheme can be drawn out it is necessary to know the true level of the problem, in other words, the number of farmers/farm labourers who took their own lives.

Pending general suicide census for Punjab we would request you to urge the government to have cases of Moonak Sub-Division of District Sangrur examined. These cases have been identified and certified by the Gram Panchayats. A list of 1508 suicide cases with 1408 Gram Panchayat Affidavits are enclosed. This list covers all 91 villages comprising the Moonak Subdivision and is for the period 1988 till date. Punjab has some 12,400 villages. We would request you to place the enclosed list and affidavits in the library of the Lok Sabha so that Members of Parliament may verify the data if they so desire.

In 2005 the Punjab Government established a Farmers’ Commission to look into the situation of the state’s farmers, including the prevalence of suicide. This commission made a general study of the problem but did not conduct a census. The Commission on the basis of the data available to it concluded that about 2,000 farmers commit suicide each year.

The Punjab State government, on the other hand, collected data on rural suicides through two agencies, the Police and the Revenue Department. It did not involve Farmers’ Commission in this exercise. The Police findings placed suicides in Punjab during the past seven years at only 7 and Revenue Department went a little further and gave a figure of 132 suicides for the same period (as suicide is a Penal offense, people are reluctant to record deaths as suicide. This is especially so in Punjab as there has been very little accountability for police excesses.)

Various reports quantifying suicides in Punjab:

1. MASR projected figure for Punjab 2000: 3,000 per year
2. Punjab Govt Status Report 2004: 2,116 (period 1988-2004)
3. Punjab Farmers’ Commission 2006: 2,000 per year
4. MASR estimates of Punjab’s suicides 2006: 40,000 to 60,000 (1988-2006)
5. Bhartiya Kissan Union (Ekta) for total Punjab 1990-2006: 90,000 (1990 – 2006)
90,000 is the extrapolated figure based on 29,766 cases recorded for 8 districts on random check of 261 villages
6. Punjab Revenue Department’s Report 2007: 132 (for past five years)
7. Punjab Police Report 2007: 7 (for past seven years)
8. MASR Census of Moonak Sub-Division:2007 1,508 (1988-to date)
(comprising 91 villages and supported by Gram Panchayat Affidavits)

The Central government is willing to concede suicides in the southern states but not in Punjab or Haryana because Punjab has long been projected as an “agricultural success story”. If it is conceded that Punjab and Haryana farmers are desperate it must mean that agriculture all over India has collapsed.

Punjab is experiencing more suicides than other states because agriculture is overwhelmingly the state’s main economic activity. Thanks to the thrust of the green revolution it has moved on from one crop to more than two crops a year. Therefore its losses are proportionally more than other states.

In 2001, we had apprised both President of India and Chief Minister of Punjab that suicide is violence turned inward. It will not be long before anger and despair are turned outward and result in social and political turmoil if nothing is done to mitigate the difficulties of the rural sector. The Central government’s response has been to multiply the number of para-military forces. The increased threat perception to the state is not from so-called “Naxalites” and “Maoists”. It is from rural emiseration due to unequal distribution of the nation’s wealth.

With warm regards,

Yours sincerely,
Inderjit Singh Jaijee, convenor

Cc: all Members of Parliament