Close to 150,000 Indian farmers committed suicide in nine years from 1997 to 2005, official data show. While farm suicides have occurred in many States, nearly two thirds of these deaths are concentrated in five States where just a third of the country's population lives. Which means that farmers' suicides occurred in those (mainly cash crop) regions with appalling intensity.
The five worst-hit States are Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh (including Chattisgarh) and Kerala. Of these States, only Kerala showed no sustained increase in the number of yearly farm suicides over this period. That's 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 state in the country. 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 the Big Four States of Maharashtra, AP, Karnataka and MP, the percentage increases 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, farmers' suicides went up 52 per cent. Indeed, the Big Four 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 farmers' suicides in the country. By 2005, that figure 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 Prof. K Nagaraj of the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS). The data analysed by Prof. Nagaraj are drawn from the various issues of Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India. This is a publication of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. The period covered by the study is from 1997-2005.
"What's worse," says Prof. Nagaraj, "the trend for this group of States looks quite dismal. All four have, over the nine-year period, shown an ascending trend in farmers' suicides." They began keeping farm data only from 1995, says Professor Nagaraj. "But significant States did not start reporting their data till about two years later. So the study begins with the year 1997. And 2005 is the last year for which such data were available nationally." He has also drawn on the 2001 Census in order to calculate the suicide rate for farmers (FSR). That is, suicides per 100,000 farmers.