[Reader-list] Reg: Set - 4

Rakesh Iyer rakesh.rnbdj at gmail.com
Mon Jun 21 21:04:35 IST 2010


Sorry for not having sent articles for the past few days. This is back now.
I will try not to be irregular from now on.


Source: The Hindu

Article theme: Farmer's suicides

Date: May 13, 2010

Link: http://beta.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/article428367.ece

Article Content:

How to be an ‘eligible suicide’ P. Sainath

Why do governments ignore the farm suicide numbers of the National Crime
Records Bureau, when it is the only authentic source on the subject?

Kafka might have envied the script. In Delhi, Union Agriculture Minister
Sharad Pawar informed the Rajya Sabha on May 7 that there had been just six
farmers' suicides in Vidarbha since January. The same day, same time in
Maharashtra, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said that figure was 343. That is,
57 times greater than Mr. Pawar's count. Mr. Chavan was speaking in
Vidarbha. Mr. Pawar's numbers came in a written reply to a question in
Parliament. Both stories were reported by the Press Trust of India (PTI).
All in a day's work.

Confused? Try this: Five days earlier, Minister of State for Agriculture
K.V. Thomas pitched his count at 23 suicides in Vidarbha since January. In
the same week — in the same Rajya Sabha. And Mr. Thomas said his source was
“the government of Maharashtra.” Whose chief minister says the number is
343. Meanwhile, before Mr. Pawar gave the figure of 'only six' in four
months, the government's Vasantrao Naik Farmers' Self Reliance Mission in
Vidarbha put the number at 62 for just January alone.

Can estimates of farm suicides — all of them official — vary by over 5,500
per cent? (Mr. Chavan's is that much higher than Mr. Pawar's). But it
doesn't end there. Maharashtra Revenue Minister Narayan Rane informed the
State Assembly in April that there have been 5,574 suicides in Vidarbha
since 2006. But Parliament is told only six have occurred since January this
year. Mr. Rane's count for the whole state since 2006 is 7,786 farm
suicides. *That is more than double Mr. Pawar's new count of 3,450 for the
whole country in the last three years*.

That's odd — 3,450 for the whole country? In three years? The National Crime
Records Bureau puts the number in the last three years at nearly 50,000.
That is for 2006, 2007 and 2008 (the last year for which data are
available). And the NCRB is the only source for farm suicide data at the
national level. Its data also show us that nearly 200,000 farmers have
killed themselves between 1997 and 2008. So whose numbers are being fed to
Parliament? And how come we have so many wildly varying counts? That too
when there is only one body with authentic data. And why does this happen
mostly with Maharashtra?

Because Maharashtra's numbers are the worst in the country. This state has
seen 41,404 farmers' suicides since 1997. Of these, 12,493 have occurred in
2006-08. So the pressure to cover up is greater here than anywhere else.

The concern was never about the farmer. Till the Prime Minister's 2006
Vidarbha visit, the state's top ministers had never been to a distress-hit
village on this issue. Most have still not visited a single suicide-hit farm
household. They cared little for what people thought of them. But they did
fear the displeasure of their own high command in New Delhi — by then
alarmed at the rising suicide numbers. So they began massaging the figures.

First, this meant attaching an impossible number of indicators to identify a
farm suicide. As early as June 2005, people in Malwagad, Yavatmal were
mocking the process when we arrived there after the suicide of Digambar
Agose. “Now we can't even commit suicide in peace,” laughed one of Agose's
neighbours with graveyard humour. “Not without reading those forms the
officials have created to see we get it right.” Another pointed out: “There
are some 40 clauses on their inquiry list. All these must apply.” In short,
if you must kill yourself, get it right. Make sure you adhere to the *pro
forma*. Then your family is ‘eligible' for compensation.

Hundreds of people were dropped from the farm suicide lists on the ground
that they were not farmers. “There's no land in their names,” officials
asserted. On the ground, this meant most women farmers taking their lives
were excluded. As also, many eldest sons who actually ran the farm while the
land remained in their aged fathers' names. The lists also shut out many
dalit and adivasi peasants — whose title to land is seldom clear.

And yet the numbers kept mounting. The reporting of the issue was hurting
where it mattered: in Delhi. So how to bring down the count? Ambitious
bureaucrats stepped forward to create new categories. 'Eligible' and
'ineligible' suicides. Only the former would be counted as “farm suicides.”
An official document set this trend in 2006.

It created a table with many new columns. With each of these, the numbers
fell. How? After the total or farm suicides, came a new group: “Family
members' suicides.” This means family members on the farm killing themselves
are not counted as farmers. That helped skim down the figure still more.
Next, an “Investigated Cases” column that saw numbers plummet further. The
final column was truly novel — “Eligible Suicides.” That is, those the
government deems worthy of compensation. And so, for 2005, the suicides
column that begins at 2,425 ends with 273. (Less than 12 per cent of the
total). This amputated figure becomes the official farm suicides count. And
a ‘decline' is established.

And so the coming of ‘non-genuine suicides.' This did not mean the man was
any less dead. Or that he had not killed himself. It meant the government
could not accept his death had been driven by debt and distress. (Even
though quite a few suicide notes cited precisely those reasons.) Committees
were set up in the crisis districts to check if the suicides were ‘genuine.'
These bodies soon ran berserk, often declaring every single suicide in a
month to be ‘non-genuine.' Their hatchet job means that very few families
suffering a breadwinner's suicide get any compensation from government.

And that's how it's still done. Mr. Rane's reply to a question in the state
assembly lists *thousands* of ‘ineligible suicides' over four years.

The problem of the NCRB's data however, remains. These are not in their
hands to fudge. Sure, over time, even the NCRB's data will be corrupted by
the fiddles at the ground level. But it is the here and now of politics that
matters. The only way to get around this is to simply ignore the NCRB. So
the Minister's written reply in Parliament makes no mention of it. You can
see the change from the past.

NCRB data was precisely what he cited in 2007 when confirming there had been
nearly 1.5 lakh farm suicides between 1997 and 2005. Replying to Starred
Question No. 238 in the Rajya Sabha (Nov. 30, 2007), Mr. Pawar's numbers
tallied to the last digit with those reported in *The Hindu* (Nov.12-17) two
weeks earlier. *The Hindu*'s reports were based on the comprehensive study
of official data on farm suicides by Professor K. Nagaraj, then with the
Madras Institute of Development Studies. The data analysed by him were from
the NCRB. It publishes these in its Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India
(ADSI) report each year. A part of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, the
NCRB is the only body that exists, which tracks suicides of all categories
across the country.

Following Dr. Nagaraj's study, *The Hindu* updated the farm suicide figures
each year, drawing from the latest NCRB reports. (All these reports are
available on their website. For instance, the 2008 data in the category of
“Self Employed (Farming / Agriculture)” counts farmers' suicides for that
year as *16,196*. (Check it yourselves on
http://ncrb.nic.in/ADSI2008/table-2.11.pdf ). But in Mr. Pawar's Rajya Sabha
reply this May, that figure is 1,237 (no source cited. At least not in the
PTI report). To date, neither central nor state government has ever
contradicted the NCRB-based figures of Dr. Nagaraj and *The Hindu*. They're
too busy contradicting their own.
Pressure to fudge

Simply put, governments are doing the same things they do with poverty
estimates. With BPL counts, APL numbers, ration cards and so on. With farm
suicides — real human deaths are involved. The pressure to fudge gets more
acute with public revulsion over the plight of farmers.

Yet, the 2011 Census could make things look a lot worse. It will tell us how
many farmers there really are now in each state. In states like Maharashtra,
they are likely to be far fewer than they were in 2001. (The 2001 Census
showed that 8 million people had quit farming since 1991). Till today, all
the Farm Suicide Rates (suicides per 100,000 farmers) worked out by Dr.
Nagaraj are based on 2001 figures. The FSR for Maharashtra, for instance, is
29.9. That could look a lot worse — and the suicides far more intense — when
the new Census figures on farmers are out. But the fiddles and fudging will
go on.

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