Supriya Sharma, TNN | Aug 27, 2012, 
Chhattisgarh eliminates farmer suicides by fudging death data
An analysis by right-to-food activist Manas Ranjan shows while suicides listed under ‘self-employed (farming/agriculture)’ have been falling, those under ‘self-employed (other)’ and ‘other’ have been rising, indicating farmer suicides are being concealed in categories that are less noticeable and politically sensitive.
RAIPUR: The sky is overcast, the fields lush with paddy. A good harvest beckons and to complete the picture of a rural idyll, Chhattisgarh has posted ‘zero’ farmer suicides for 2011. For a state that has consistently reported the highest rate of farmer suicides in India, with 1,773 cases in 2008; 1,802 in 2009; and 1,126 in 2010, eliminating farmer suicides would be a thundering achievement. But a ground investigation shows this may be nothing more than a statistical feat. 

Half an hour’s drive from Raipur, in Abhanpur, the annual police report, seen by TOI, records 12 cases of farmer suicides in 2011. This report was sent to the police headquarters in Raipur, but as the state-wide compilation submitted to the National Crime Records Bureaushows, the data was lost in transit. 

The additional director-general of police, Ram Niwas, says, “We found constables in police stations were making mistakes in entering data. Even traders and businessmen were shown as farmers. So we have corrected the mistakes in the headquarters.” 

An analysis by right-to-food activist Manas Ranjan shows while suicides listed under ‘self-employed (farming/agriculture)’ have been falling, those under ‘self-employed (other)’ and ‘other’ have been rising, indicating farmer suicides are being concealed in categories that are less noticeable and politically sensitive. 

Dead farmers vanish from Chhattisgarh records 

All his life, Tulsi Ram Gond laboured at others’ fields, barely making ends meet. But after he drank pesticide and killed himself on December 18 last year, he was no longer a farmer, it seems. Chhattisgarh reported that no farmer had committed suicide in 2011. It isn’t clear if the police did categorize Tulsi Ram as a farmer or snuck him under ‘other’, a less troublesome category. 

Tulsi Ram Gond’s world came apart last year when his baby daughter was diagnosed with a hole in her heart. The hospital gave an estimate of Rs 1.5 lakh for the surgery. “He was told the government helps out in such cases but he didn’t know where to go,” says Durpad Bai, Tulsi Ram’s mother. 

On the night of December 18, 2011, the 30-year-old tribal farmer of Seoni village in Abhanpur, drank pesticide in his small brick tenement and died within hours. His baby daughter died a few months later. Within days, a dozen claimants, including representatives of the local bank, the village society and countless others, showed up at the doorstep demanding repayment for loans worth Rs 1,85,500. 

Poverty, mounting debt, catastrophic health expenses — the ‘marg jayaram’ or death register maintained by the local police records the circumstances of Tulsi Ram’s death in great detail, along with the fact that he did not own the land he cultivated, and was a farm labourer. In reality, he was a sharecropper, cultivating four acres of borrowed land. 

In its annual report, the Abhanpur police recorded some 12 cases of farmer suicide in 2011. But by the time the state-wide data was compiled, the statistics had disappeared. 

Those tracking farmer suicides are not surprised. “States are fudging data to conceal the extent of farmer suicides, either at the primary level, or at the state level,” says Dr G V Ramanjaneyulu, agricultural scientist at the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture. 

Despite reporting the highest rate of farmer suicides in India for years, there are no clear studies documenting farming distress in Chhattisgarh. On the surface, farming in the predominantly paddy-growing state is less insecure, compared with the neighbouring cotton-growing region of Vidarbha. The state government buys bulk of the paddy produce at ever-rising minimum support prices. But agricultural expert Sanket Thakur has pointed out that paddy growers of Chhattisgarh are typically small and marginal farmers, and if not the vagaries of market, the vagaries of monsoon are enough to bring them down. 

In the first week of 2012, Sevak Ram, a farmer in Khapri village in Baloda Bazaar district, walked out of his house to attend to his fields, but was found the next morning in the meadows, hanging from a palaash tree. His family and friends speak in muted tones when asked why he ended his life. No reason, they say. But as the conversation turns to the state of agriculture, they become animated, discussing the rising prices of fertilizers and pesticides, and the un0certainty of rains and crop returns. 

“It didn’t rain enough last year. We only managed to harvest half the crop,” says Jayant Ram, Sevak Ram’s brother. At the local police station, last year’s death register records 25 suicides, of which seven are listed as ‘housewives’, one as ‘student’, another as ‘unemployed’, and the remaining 16 are simply noted as ‘agyaat’ or ‘unknown’.