Seven years after the suicide spiral in Vidarbhas six cotton-growing districts touched a record 1,449 in 2006,heres something to celebrate the new year with: the number of deaths fell to about half that number in 2013.
The year gone by recorded only 752 suicides ,although that number could rise by a few due to some late reporting. It also reflects a markedly improving suicide-to-population ratio considering the significant growth in population in these seven years.
The 2013 number has to be seen in relation to that of 2006 since meticulous reporting of all suicides farmers and non-farmers in the countryside began that year.
The overall figures,generally reported as farmers suicides,actually include suicides by men,young girls and boys and housewives from farmer and non-farmer households although suicides in farmer households are much higher.
The Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti,which maintains its own suicide-count,has recorded 824 suicides for 2013 from all 11 districts of the region,including the five that grow paddy.
The record low in the number of suicides comes in a year that saw unprecedented havoc caused by rains in the region,killing hundreds of people and thousands of cattle and hurting farming in over 15 lakh hectares.
The turnaround in the six cotton and soyabean producing districts of Wardha,Yavatmal,Amravati,Akola,Washim and Buldana,has coincided with concerted government interventions through the chief ministers and Prime Ministers packages – often dubbed failures – as also with the massive spread of Bt cotton,which now covers more than 95 per cent of the regions cotton area and which activists have been blaming for an increase in suicides.
Almost all these districts have registered the drop consistently from 2006,barring 2010 which saw an increase.
The drop has been most significant in Buldana (305 to 120) and Washim (185 to 56),two of the most backward districts of the region. In Amravati,it has gone down to 159 from 270 and in Wardha to 79 from 143. Yavatmal,which routinely registered the highest number of suicides,marked a drop to 219 from 359.
Akola,the one district that showed little fluctuation from 2006 until 2012 (174 to 178),also saw a new low of 128 in 2013.
Along with the absolute numbers,those categorised as farm-related suicides have also come down from 565 out of a total of 1,449 in 2006 to 425 of 950 in 2012.
In 2013,257 suicides have so far been found to be farm-related and 182 are being probed.
We have been saying that the numbers have been going down. An unprecedented flow of funds worth over Rs 10,000 crore has come to the region,including the vastly improved loan offtake and through the PMs and CMs packages, said Maharashtras Additional Chief Secretary (Agriculture) S K Goel.
We have built about 40,000 farm ponds,75,000 new wells and 20,000 cement nullah bundings. Annual loan offtake has gone up from Rs 700 crore to over Rs 2,000 crore. We are also focusing hugely on drip irrigation. Over Rs 100 crore was spent last year and Rs 100 crore earmarked for this year too. The vast improvement in rural deposits also indicate that the situation has improved for the better, he said.
Goel said the increase in minimum support price had also played a role. Cotton MSP has gone up from Rs 2,300 to Rs 3,900 per quintal. Soyabean MSP too has gone up significantly. That has also helped, he said.
The most significant aspect,however,is the resilience that the regions farmers have developed over the years as reflected in the fact that the numbers this year are the lowest despite this being the worst year due to the unprecedented rain fury, Goel said.
Experts said the drop also coincided with reduced media coverage of the suicide problem as the extensive media focus and graphic descriptions of suicides in the past was partly blamed for adding to suicide tendencies.