The Fraud of Farm Suicide Numbers

 

  • Well over 3 lakh farmers have committed suicide in India between 1995 and 2015, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) – a department of the Union Home Ministry. Even this horrendous figure is an underestimate, with suicides in many groups like women, dalit and Adivasi farmers being seriously undercounted. Yet, the NCRB was the only body giving us a nationwide picture, however flawed, of the number of farmers taking their own lives each year.

 

  • The situation has deteriorated to such an extent that since 2015, the NCRB has not published farmer suicide data at all. A few numbers have been selectively ‘leaked’ by way of replies to questions in parliament, but the data remain unpublished. Prior to 2015, the NCRB had unfailingly published that data every year for 20 years.
  • As the issue of farmers committing suicide in distress became a politically explosive one, many state governments began declaring ‘zero farmer suicides’ in their states from 2011 onwards – still the farm suicide numbers grew. In 2014 and again in 2015, India (ADSI) a record 12 states and six union territories declared “zero” farmer suicides. That included states with major farmer populations like Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh.
  • In 2010, by contrast, not a single major farming state had claimed ‘zero’ suicides. Chhattisgarh, between 2006 and 2010, had averaged 1,555 farmer suicides a year in the NCRB data. In 2011, it declared ‘zero’ farmer suicides in the NCRB tables. It did that again in 2013. In 2012, it conceded to just four farm suicides.
  • Still the numbers seemed to rise. In the 2014 report, the government brought major changes to the methodology used in the NCRB’s calculations of farm suicides. Finally, as the embarrassment continued to mount, the government simply wrecked the system – It merged the NCRB with the Bureau of Police Research and Development (BPRD) in August 2017. This proved so disastrous that just ten months later, it “de-merged” the NCRB from the BPRD. In any case, the body is paralysed – and its methodology and credibility are in tatters.

 

  • So where are all those confusing and often contradictory numbers of farm suicides you see in the newspapers and on the TV channels coming from? The state governments are now free to bandy about any numbers they like – and their figures are often from the revenue department of each state government. These numbers are usually farcical.
  • But why are revenue departments entrusted with counting farm suicide numbers? Because they handle compensations to be paid out to the families of suicide victims. And the higher the numbers, the more the government must pay. Revenue departments are committed to keeping those numbers – and therefore payments – down to a minimum. And so the numbers go down even where farmer suicides are rising.

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