Farmer distress in Gujarat. Farmer suicides and more.

Thermal Plants want water, farmers need it

One should never underestimate the power of denial. Modi suporters are comparing Gujarat with Maharashtra (unbeaten champ of farmer suicides) and claiming that Gujarat does not have a problem. Wait a minute. Not so fast. Being better than the worst is hardly leader material. If it were a classroom (compulsive associations from ranking – left over trauma from the education system), better than the worst student often doesn’t even pass. So let us take a look at the situation.

The argument is that farmer suicides are not as bad as Maharashtra. I’m not even going to try and debate that. For a state to get as bad as Maharashtra gets they would have to completely stop caring about farmers…. like Maharashtra does (and the population is larger too). My question is, are farmers doing well in Gujarat?

To begin with, let us be clear that there are farmer suicides in Gujarat. This is the NCRB data. (Data for 2013 is not out yet)

YearFarmer suicides reported

On the face of it, the numbers of farmer suicides in Gujarat appear to be somewhat constant. Beginning at 594 in 2001 going as high as 615 in 2005 and dropping to 317 in 2007 to finally 564 in 2012 according to latest available data. If we look at it mathematically, Gujarat achieved a drop of 30 suicides from the 2001 number. It may not have been a dramatic drop, but it ain’t the end of the world either.

But wait. Gujarat lost almost a fifth (18% – lest someone accuse me of exaggerating) of its farmer population between 2001 and 2011.

 % of original−18%

So we are basically seeing similar numbers of suicides in a drastically decreased population size.

But wait. This is not all.

When the policies do not care for farmers, and the focus is on profiteering at the cost of the people, a new kind of “science” mushrooms up. It is called “Creative statistics”. Or is it art? Whatever it is, it most certainly should be a post-graduation specialty, since it seems to be a very lucrative field.

It is not easy defending pro-corporation and anti-farmer policies year after year. Some kind of damage control is needed to show that farmers are harmed as less as possible. Leading GDP state and national farmer suicide champ Maharashtra achieves this by recording as farmer suicides only farmers who own land in their own name. So, the 45 year old son of an 80 year old agricultural land owner, who does all the farming and risks all the debt and commits suicide when all fails…. is not a farmer suicide. The farmer who takes land on rent, suffers loss and can’t reply debt or pay dues and commits suicide…. is not a farmer suicide. The brother who helps his brother in the field and both suffer losses and he commits suicide is…. you get the idea. When there was outrage over this brazen fudging of farmer distress, Maharashtra started recording ‘Farmer’s relatives suicides,’ or “non-genuine” suicides. That didn’t dent their winning streak.

Chattisgarh had more than 7,500 farmer suicides between 2006 and 2010, averaging 1,567 per year. 18,375 farm suicides between 2001-10. In 2011 they “fixed” it by declaring ZERO farmer suicides, and “4” for 2012. West Bengal averaged 951 farmer suicides per year between 2009 and 2011. In 2012, it did the clever thing and did not submit any data. Mamata Banerjee declared on TV channels that farmer suicides were a Maoist conspiracy.

Gujarat doesn’t do something this obvious and the “presidential style” of election politics isn’t the only thing it copies from the United States. It reports the suicides reported as suicides transparently. Only…. there is no compensation for farmer suicides, while accidental deaths of farmers get one lakh compensation declared by a benevolent state under the Janta Juth Accident Insurance Scheme. It doesn’t take much genius to guess how the death gets reported, particularly if the suicide was because of debt. Sometimes police record it as an accident even if it is a suicide, and farmer’s families have fought battles in courts to set the record straight.

Bharatsinh R Jhala was a citizen nominee for RTI Awards 2009 for his tenacious investigations into farmer deaths in Gujarat. He revealed that a total of 6055 farmers were shown to have died in accidents, out of which only 1909 of the farmer households had managed to get insurance claims (under Krishi Bima Yojana) passed after these accidental deaths. One also wonders how 6055 farmers can die in accidents without alarm.

Considering that a large part of farmer distress is also in losing agriculture land in the name of “development”, it is anyone’s guess if the development hit farmer gets recognized as a farmer if he commits suicide once his land is sold to the state – and he no longer farms.

But this is speculation. Gujarat state dismisses such news or questions as “politically motivated”.

“Every time someone commits suicide in a village, Congress workers rush to the home of the deceased and persuade his family to sign a paper saying their family member had committed suicide because of crop failure,” ~ Babu Bokharia

Apparently massive farmer deaths in accidents is not so abnormal for a (“high risk” ?) profession like farming. I imagine crops eat farmers who don’t put enough fertilizers or something in large numbers in Gujarat. But a farmer committing suicide? Impossible.

What cannot be denied is furious farmers renewing their agitation against the Gujarat state to retain control of their fertile land that produces export quality wheat.

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