Why farmers end their lives?
High time for a thorough investigation
by Ranjit Singh Ghuman
Suicide, in general and by farmers and agricultural labourers in particular, is an unnatural and a serious phenomenon. This is an indicator of serious limitations of the country’s social, economic and political policies. Such a phenomenon needs an urgent and systematic investigation.
The National Farmers’ Commission of India had highlighted that nearly 1.5 lakh farmers have committed suicides in India, since 1990s. Incidentally, these have taken place in those states where green revolution has been a success story — Punjab, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
In Maharashtra alone, the figure touched 1.31 lakh during 1993-2006. Hardly any state has undertaken comprehensive enumeration of the suicides. As regards Punjab, the most widely acclaimed success story of green revolution, the only systematic and authentic enumeration of the farmers’ suicides has been undertaken by the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, in 2009. That study, too, is confined to Bathinda and Sangrur districts. And during 2000-2008, according to this study, suicides touched 2,890 (1,757 farmers and 1,133 agricultural labourers).
The farmers and agricultural labourers are considered to be militant by nature. As such, the phenomenon of suicides does not go along well with their psyche. This is a serious indication of economic hardships which may eventually lead to social turmoil.
The co-existence of prosperity and indebtedness of the farmers is not a new phenomenon. Malcolm Darling (Indian Civil Service, 1904-40) in his book, The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt, 1925, highlighted that the farmers are simultaneously living in prosperity and debt. But during those days, they never committed suicides. Why, then, are the present-day farmers committing suicides? This calls for a census survey of the suicides by the farmers and the agricultural labourers.
The two recent decisions — package of Rs 25,000 crore to the families of suicide victims and the debt wavier of Rs 70,000 crore for farmers — show that the nation has at least recognised the seriousness of the phenomenon.
The agricultural sector, the farmers and the agricultural labourers are the backbone of the rural economy. Over 72 per cent population and 77 per cent of workers are still living in the rural areas (Census, 2001). Significantly, the number of workers (cultivators + labourers) in agricultural sector increased from 21.73 crore in 1991 to 24.59 crore in 2001 in India. However, the share of agricultural workforce in the total workers in India declined from 69.18 per cent in 1991 to 61.78 per cent in 2001.
According to a recent national level survey (NSSO, 2005), about 41 per cent Indian farmers have expressed their willingness to opt out of the agriculture. In Punjab, too, nearly 37 per cent farmers expressed their willingness to leave agriculture. About two lakh small and marginal farmers in Punjab have already been pushed away from farming during 1990-2001, according to a recent study (2007) by Punjab Agricultural University and the Punjab Farmers’ Commission.
In view of the ever-increasing threat of food insecurity at the national and global level, the survival of agricultural sector and the workforce therein is all the more important. If the agricultural workforce got demoralised, who would produce food grains to meet the challenge of food insecurity?
The sheen of green revolution started dimming towards the late 1980s. The per hectare net income, over variable costs, is shrinking day in and day out.
According to a study (Ranjit Singh Ghuman, 2001), the annual trend growth rate of per hectare return, over variable costs, in major crops (wheat, paddy and cotton) has been negative. In the case of wheat-paddy (combined), it was minus 2.18 per cent per annum. And in the case of cotton, it was minus 14.24 per cent per annum.
The labour absorption capacity of agriculture has been declining. Only in Punjab, the employment of workforce in cultivation and rearing of crops declined from 48 crore mandays in 1983-84 to 43 crore mandays in 1996-97 (Sucha Singh Gill, 2002). The employment in the non-agricultural sectors is also not growing enough to absorb the surplus labour in agriculture (Ranjit Singh Ghuman, 2005).
The agricultural workforce, pushed out of agriculture has thus no place to go. They are beleaguered in the situation. As such, per person productivity in agriculture has been declining at a fast rate. Agriculture, in India, is facing disguised unemployment at a very high rate.
All these factors have resulted in ever-increasing indebtedness of farmers and agricultural labourers. The indebtedness among farmers in India increased from 22.3 per cent in 1981 to 57.2 per cent in 2003 (RBI Bulletin, 1981 and NSSO, 2005).
According to NSSO (2005), 48.6 per cent of the total farmer households are reported to be indebted in 2005. The incidence of indebtedness is the highest in Andhra Pradesh (82 per cent) followed by Tamil Nadu (74.5 per cent), Punjab (65.4 per cent), Kerala (64.4 per cent), Karnataka (61.6 per cent) and Maharashtra (54.8 per cent). Nearly 50 to 53 per cent farmers in many other states are facing indebtedness.
Even a cursory look would bring home the point that agricultural development, indebtedness and the farmers’ suicides are closely interlinked. In other words, the Indian agricultural development, perhaps, is taking place at the peril of farmers — the very backbone of food security and Indian society. All this indicates that there are some serious flaws in the Indian agricultural policies.
It is in this context that the extent and nature of suicides by the farmers and agricultural labourers needs to be probed. The seriousness and dimensions of the phenomenon warrants a census survey of all those farmers and labourers who committed suicides. The identification and analysis of the causes (social, economic and other reasons) of suicides would provide a guide to the future policy and development of agricultural sector.
It would also enable the government to take policy measures for the prevention of suicides by farmers and the labourers. This, in turn, would help the country to take safeguards against the imminent threat of food insecurity. The nation would have to save the farmers and agricultural labourers, if it wants to live with food security as well as peace.
The writer is Professor, Department of Economics, Panjab University, Chandigarh
Source Link: http://www.tribuneindia.com/2009/20090531/edit.htm#3
Last Updated ( Thursday, 28 January 2016 18:36 )