The annual publication,Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India,brought out by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB),Ministry of Home Affairs,Government of India,has indicated that on an average,about 500 farmers have committed suicide every year in Gujarat over the last decade.
To be precise,the data for 1997 is 565; 1998 is 653,1999 is 500; 2000 is 661; 2001 is 594; 2002 is 570; 2003 is 581; 2004 is 523; 2005 is 615; and for 2006,it is 487.
The publication,a regular affair since 1967,is essentially a compilation of the data provided by the state Crime Records Bureau,as NCRB does not have any office in the state.
While the earlier reports provided only the basic data regarding suicides in the country,of late,these have become more detailed in nature.
At present,there are 12 basic categories Housewife,Service (government),Service (private),Public Sector Undertaking,Student,Unemployed,Self-employed (business activity),Self-employed ( professional activity),Self-employed (farming/agriculture),Self-employed (others),Retired persons and Others.
Of these,the category Self-employed (farming/agriculture) is taken as representing the farmers and the data for this is available from 1995 onwards.
But even this data may be on the lower side.
Noted journalist and Ramon Magsaysay Award winner P Sainath,while analysing the NCRB data for Gujarat,says that ‘Pesticide Suicides’ are 84 per cent higher than other farm suicides in Gujarat.
At the national level,they are just 28 per cent higher.
He said the gap is three times higher for Gujarat,and raises the question whether several farmer suicides in the state end up being recorded as just Pesticide Suicides.
Incidentally,the NCRB figures are in direct contrast to what the state government had provided in reply to an RTI application.
Bharat Jhala of Action Aid,who had filed the RTI,said,As per the reply,during the period between 2003 and 2007,the number of farmer suicides in the state was recorded at 489.
Also,on March 29,2007,the Gujarat government had mentioned on the floor of the state Assembly that 148 farmers had committed suicide in the state between January 2005 and January 2007,a figure which was immediately challenged by the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS),the farmers wing of the ruling BJP.
Praful Sanjelia,the then Gujarat president of BKS,had said in a press conference that the Gujarat government was hiding the truth as BKS own estimates exceeded 300.
Meanwhile,authorities in Gujarat continue to be in the denial mode regarding the issue of farmers suicide.
Brushing aside the NCRB data completely,P N Roy Chowdhary,Principal Secretary (Agriculture),Gujarat,said,I have no knowledge of any such NCRB figures but will certainly look into it.
He added: The data can only be authentic if all the stakeholders,that is the government,NGOs,media and the Kisan unions together develop a collective surveying mechanism.
Even the BKS has taken a complete U-turn from its earlier position.
Denying NCRB figures,Jivan Patel,National Secretary,BKS,said,There is absolutely no issue of farmers committing suicides in Gujarat.