While Punjab government records show that just like the national trend farm suicides have come down in the state in the last four years, there is a glaring gap in the total number of farm suicides reported to the government and the cases finally accepted as bona fide by the state authorities. Over a period of four years, Punjab has rejected 61.1 per cent ‘farm suicide’ cases reported in the state as ineligible.
In every district, a district-level committee headed by senior officials investigates the reported farmer/farm labourers’ suicides based on a set of government rules.
According to data sourced from Punjab Agriculture Department and Punjab Revenue Department, Punjab government received 2,528 cases of farmer suicides, including 1,630 farmer suicides and 898 sucides by farm labourers, in four years from 2015-16 to 2018-19. Out of these, only 783 cases (31 per cent of the total received) were accepted by the government under farmer/farm labourer suicide category due to farm debt, while 7.9 per cent (199 cases including 150 farmers and 49 of farm labourers) are pending for approval or rejection. Remaining 61.1 per cent were rejected as ineligible under the category.
The year-wise data revealed that in 2015-16, total 674 cases of farmer and farm labourers’ suicides were received by Punjab government out of which 446 were rejected. In 2016-17, 288 were rejected out of 498 and in 2017-18, 504 cases were rejected out of 824. While in 2018-19, 532 cases were reported to the state government out of which 308 cases were rejected.
The rejection rate in case of farm labourers was between 80 to 86 per cent, while in case of farmers, the rejection rate was between 20 per cent to 50 per cent. Out of the total accepted cases in four years, 687 were of farmers and just 96 were of farm labourers.
In the current financial year, 2019-20, the cases received till mid-2019 were 100, including 87 of farmer suicide and 13 of suicide farm labourers. Out of this, 12 have been accepted, while 65 are pending and 23 have been rejected.
Going by the Punjab government record, the farmer/farm labourer suicides have gone down in four years, barring one year (2017-18). In 2015-16, a total of 217 cases of suicides were accepted by authorities which means that one suicide in every 40 hours was committed in Punjab which has come down to one suicide in 45 hours in 2016-17 when 191 suicides cases were accepted. No decision has been taken yet on 19 cases from 2016-17.
In 2017-18, there was one farm suicide in every 33 hours or 22 suicides in a month in the state as total 262 suicides were accepted as licit. There was a sharp decreasing trend in 2018-19. While 111 cases are still pending from 2018-19, the year saw 113 cases of farmers’ and farm labourers’ suicide cases being held licit by authorities, which meant one suicide every 76 hours.
But with highest number of cases pending with authorities (111) for 2018-19 out the four years for which data was looked at, the actual picture of 2018-19 would come only once all the files are cleared.
Farm unions, experts contest data
Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), which started keeping the record of farm suicides since 2016, says that there have been 1,650 farm suicides in Punjab till 2019. These include 1,000 farmer suicides and 650 farm labourer suicides since 2016. According to BKU, around 8 farmers and farm labourers are committing suicide every week in the state.
“Governments are always in the habit of not releasing the clear-cut data and that’s why NCRB has not released the state-wise data as part of its farmers’ and farm labourers’ suicides report,” said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, BKU Ekta, Dakaunda. Recently released NCRB data showed that farmers’ and farm labourers’ suicides has come down from 9.4 per cent in 2015 to 7.7 per cent in 2018 across the country. However, the NCRB did not release state-wise figures.
Prof Kesar Singh Bhangu, Professor of Economics at Punjabi University, Patiala, said that the huge gap between the received suicide cases and accepted cases was because the methodology of the government was wrong.
“Most of the suicide cases are treated under Section 174 of the CrPC in which police inquire and report in case of suicides or death but in most cases, no proper inquiry takes place while the farm unions investigate every case by visiting such families,” he said, adding: “Government hardly takes farm labourers’ suicides seriously and rejects these outright”.
However, a senior official from the the Punjab Agriculture Department argued, “We too have been receiving a high percentage of the farmers and farm labourers suicides cases — even more than what the farmer organisations and the universities data claims. But after district-level field survey by the committee, most of these cases get rejected because in several cases the cause of farmers’ and farm labourers death is different than farm debt.” He claimed that data collected by universities and farmer unions’ is based on sample surveys and newspapers reports, and cannot be held as 100 per cent true without field verification.