Farmer suicides in the country have declined but suicides among agricultural labourers have gone up.
According to figures released by the government for 2016 — the latest year for which data is available — farmer suicides in 2016 have come down to 6,351 from 8,007 in 2015 — a drop of 21%.
Agricultural labour suicides, however, have gone up by about 10% — from 4,595 farm labour suicides in 2015 up to 5,019 in 2016.
The government has begun collecting separate figures for suicides of farmers and farm labour since 2014. Earlier, it collected figures for suicides in the “farming sector” which included farmers and farm labour.
Latest government figures, released in Parliament, show that states with high number of farmer suicides have also witnessed high number of farm labour suicides.
However, with the exception of Telangana, all states which have witnessed a drop in farmer suicides have witnessed an increase in farm labour suicides.
Certain states such as Gujarat stand out for the wide gap between farmer suicides and farm labour suicides. Recording double-digit farmer suicide figures, which have reduced by about 50% in 2016, the state records 378 labour suicides in 2016 as against just 244 in 2015.
Similarly, in Karnataka, while farmer suicides have increased marginally, farm labour suicides have more than doubled between 2015 and 2016. Only Maharashtra has witnessed a marginal reduction in farm labour suicides but it pales in comparison to the reduction the state has witnessed in farmer suicides.
Experts believe that this trend could be due to the fact that 2014 and 2015 were drought years and the crisis was deep. The 2016 monsoon was good but for labourers, the first six months of 2016 too were a period of no work.
“A farmer lives on hope of a good monsoon. A labourer may not have the same capacity to withstand the crisis,” an expert said.
The year 2015 had been particularly bad with farmer suicides spiking by 40% over the previous year.
While the usual suspects Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh continue to take top spots for farmer suicides, Punjab and Haryana have made an entry into the list in 2016.
Farmer suicides have more than doubled and trebled in the two states respectively as compared to 2015.
The figures are based on data compiled by National Crime Records Bureau — NCRB suicide figures for 2016 have not been published officially yet.
According to the figures, released by Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh in Rajya Sabha in response to a question, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, notorious for the high number of farmer suicides over several decades, have witnessed over a 50% drop in such incidents in 2016.
Maharashtra continues to rule the charts, as always, but has reduced farmer suicide numbers in 2016 by 16%.
Chhattisgarh, which regularly features in the top five states on farmer suicides, has also fared well. It has recorded a drop of 31% in farmer suicides in 2016 as compared to 2015.
Karnataka, which had taken the second spot in the table last year after a massive spike in farmer suicides in 2015 due to the agrarian crisis in South Karnataka, has retained both its position and the numbers.
Against 1197 farmer suicides in 2015, the state again recorded 1212 suicides in 2016. The last Congress government in the state had to pay a heavy price for this with the party being almost wiped out in South Karnataka.
Madhya Pradesh, which is going to polls this year, has, in fact, climbed a step in the chart to take the fourth position.
This, however, has been due to other states reducing their numbers in 2016 while MP managing to record a marginal increase from 581 such deaths in 2015 to 599 in 2016.
Punjab, with 222 farmer suicides in 2016, has closed in on the states infamous for farmer suicides. The state had recorded merely 100 such suicides in 2015. Haryana, though recording less than 100 suicides in 2016, has seen a spike of 225% rising from 28 in 2015 to 91 in 2016.
Interestingly, while farmer suicides decreased, number of suicides among agricultural labour have increased in 2016.
Pointing to an overall distress in the agrarian sector, the suicide pattern among agricultural labour in 2016 has followed the pattern among farmers.
The states which have recorded high farmer suicides have also recorded high agricultural labour suicides.
Farm labour suicides in key states are: Maharashtra (1,111), Karnataka (867), Madhya Pradesh (722), Andhra Pradesh (565) and Gujarat (378). Tamil Nadu (604) and Karnataka (867) have witnessed almost double the increase in 2016 as compared to 2015.
Gujarat recorded only 30 farmer suicides in 2016 but 378 farm labour suicides. Similarly, Tamil Nadu recorded only 36 farmer suicides in the year but 345 labour suicides.