In Maharashtra, suicide figures shoot through the roof
The suicide rate had already begun climbing steeply with the onset of the drought last year which destroyed large swathes of crops. The unseasonal rain and hailstorms made the crisis worse.
Significantly, less than half the farmer suicides reported have been declared “eligible suicides” by the government. Only 545 of the 1,088 cases were deemed to fit this category, which qualifies for government compensation.
To be considered an “eligible suicide,” the land has to be in the victim’s name and there should be physical evidence of indebtedness. The government claims only these suicides are linked to agrarian distress. Critics say this is an attempt to keep the numbers down. Even the number of eligible suicides has more than doubled from 241 to 545 cases between March and May.
The data was sourced from the revenue department’s divisional headquarters and has yet to be compiled by the state government. Critics say these figures are an underestimate compared to data from the National Crime Records Bureau.
The cotton belt of Vidarbha – from where Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis hails – reported the highest number of farmer suicides in the state. It accounted for as many as 564 of the 1,088 cases. That’s a 76 per cent rise from the 319 cases in Vidarbha reported till March.
The arid zone of Marathwada reported the second highest number with 367 cases, a rise of 70 per cent from the 215 reported by the end of March.
The Nashik division, which was also impacted by unseasonal rain, reported 130 farmer suicides by the end of May. Pune division reported 26 cases, while the Konkan division reported only one case so far this year.
When asked about the rising graph of cases despite the government’s claim that tackling the crisis was a priority, state revenue minister Eknath Khadse said, “We are doing the best we can. This is an issue which has been going on for many years and cannot be fixed overnight.”
So far, the state government had announced Rs 4,000 crore worth of drought relief to 90 lakh farmers. It has also said that 35 lakh farmers will be eligible for crop insurance worth Rs 1,600 crore. Earlier this week, it announced Rs 564 crore compensation for crop damage during the rabi season. The state has also asked rural banks to reschedule loans. However, it has dismissed Opposition demands to declare a loan waiver.
Farmers’ leaders say the government has failed to intervene in the critical issue of pricing. “The crisis is becoming worse because the cost of planting crops is rising but the sale price is stagnant. The minimum support price for a quintal of cotton is Rs 4,050. But it costs at least Rs 5,500 to 6,000 to grow it. Farmers are not breaking even when there is good rainfall,” said farmers’ leader Vijay Jawandhia.
The rising graph
Cases till May 31: 1088
Cases till March 31: 601
Cases till May 31: 545
Cases till March 31: 241
(Number of farmer suicides till May 31)
Nashik division: 130
Pune division: 26