Farmer suicides go unabated and shockingly, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which has been collating this data annually, has strangely stopped doing so since 2015.
In Maharashtra, as per information recently received under right to information (RTI) act, from the revenue department, number of farmers’ suicides has doubled in the past four years. While 6,268 farmer suicides were recorded between 2011 and 2014, the number has almost doubled to 11,995 during 2015 to 2018.
Mumbai based RTI activist, Jeetendra Ghadge, who has been using RTI for the last nine years regarding this issue, recently filed RTI applications to procure information for the period of 2015-2018 on the number of farmer suicides in Maharashtra; the number of deceased farmers’ families who received compensation of Rs1 lakh and; the recipients of the upgraded compensation of Rs5 lakh as announced by the Maharashtra government in 2015, along with an insurance policy named after the late political leader, Gopinath Munde. He addressed his requisitions to the revenue department of Maharashtra.
Mr Ghadge states that, the information available with the revenue department is generally perhaps one tenth of the actual suicides committed by farmers. Pointing to a reply he procured under RTI in 2015, he states, “While the number of suicides provided to me in 2015 under RTI, was about 70 in Sangli district, the figure given by the district police department during the same period was 2,000. That is the kind of disparity in the records. The figures of suicides that are recorded are mostly those of family members of the farmers who have committed suicide. One can safely assume that out of every 10 suicides, only two to three are recorded. And now, since 2015, there are no national statistics available of farmers’ suicides since 2015.’’
He also sought information on the number of people who received compensation of Rs1 lakh to be paid to the families of the deceased farmers. As per the RTI reply, 1358 farmers received compensation and 674 applications were rejected in 2014. In 2018, rejected applications increased to 1050 and more cases have been rejected.
Following are the statistics of compensation and rejection in Amravati district which sees the maximum number of farmer suicides:
The much tom-tommed `Gopinath Munde Accident Insurance Scheme’ launched by the then revenue minister Eknath Khadse in December 2018 has not taken off, as per the RTI reply.
Mr Ghadge received a reply from the revenue department stating the decision is still on hold. Also, due to the word “accident insurance” scheme, a suicide does not come into that category and hence there is confusion.
This insurance scheme seeks to provide Rs2 lakh insurance safety to the 1.30 crore farmers of Maharashtra, as per information provided under RTI by the department of agriculture and animal husbandry.
In a reply to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which in 2015, sought information on erratic compensations provided to deceased farmers’ families, the revenue department had stated in its reply that, `the prominent reasons noted for farmers’ suicides in the state of Maharashtra are debt, crop failure, inability to repay debt resulting in pressure from debtors, inability to procure enough money for daughter’s marriage or other religious activities, chronic severe illness, vices like alcohol addictions, and gambling.
As per the government resolution (GR) of 19 December 2015, debt, crop failure, inability to repay debt resulting in pressure from debtors are the norms considered eligible for financial assistance of Rs1 lakh to the family of the deceased farmer from the state government thus rendering suicides committed for other reasons, ineligible.’’ And therein lies the problem. Scrutiny is done by officials of the collectors’ offices leading to controversies over rejections.
While fundamental changes to agrarian policy are long overdue, the compensation mechanism to the victims in the meanwhile too leaves much to be desired.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”