In Rajasthan, at least 414 farmers committed suicide on an average every year over five years till 2013. However, in 2014, not a single farmer ended his life in the state, thanks to a new methodology adopted by the National Crime Records Bureau to calculate farming distress.
In fact, the latest NCRB data shows the desert state to be an oasis of farming bliss, surrounded by distress-ridden Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat.
While MP reported 826 farmer suicides, UP and Gujarat reported 63 and 45 suicides each.
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Even Punjab and Haryana — the so-called granaries of India — witnessed 24 and 14 farmer suicides in 2014. But in Rajasthan, where people from all walks of life — from street vendors to businessmen to those in plush government jobs — ended up taking the extreme step, no farmer committed suicide.
Ironically, the data is inconsistent with past trends, especially when the state reported a six percent rise in farmer suicides in 2013 over 2012 and has witnessed a total of 2,071 suicides since 2009.
Before this year, farmer suicides were to be found under the “Self Employed (farming/agriculture)” category in the NCRB’s Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India data sheet. This year, the NCRB created a separate farmer suicide category, which resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of farmer suicides across the country leading to 12 states and 6 Union Territories reporting zero farmer suicides. This include large states with huge agricultural economies like Rajasthan, West Bengal and Bihar.
In the latest NCRB data, farmer suicides have been clubbed under Self Employed (Agriculture) category. Under this, Rajasthan has reported 373 farmer suicides, all of whom strangely were ‘agricultural labourers’. If this figure were to be taken as representing farmer suicides — since all other entries pertaining to farmers report zero — then Rajasthan would have seen quite a steep surge of 22 percent in farmer suicides.
“The change in methodology has rendered the data incomparable to previous years,” says senior journalist P Sainath, who was among the first few to bring the phenomenon of farmer suicides to national mainstream.
“The new methodology enables state governments to conceal the number of farmer suicides across new categories. In fact, many states are now declaring zero farmer suicide,” he said.
Congress state president Sachin Pilot said it was not possible that no farmer committed suicide in the state. “I myself have visited over 50 families of farmers who committed suicide. The government has given compensation to some of these farmers. Then how did they report zero suicides?” he asked.
“The economic distress on the farmers of the state is telling and the government is in absolute denial,” he said.