A recently published report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has brought to light a distressing rise in suicides within the agricultural sector. The report discloses that a staggering 10,881 individuals involved in farming tragically took their own lives in 2021, signifying the highest count recorded over the preceding five years.
The report has also revealed that approximately 30 farmers and farm laborers, on average, died by suicide each day in the span of a year.
The report serves as a stark reminder of the government’s failure to deliver on its pledge of doubling farm income. “Despite the Centre promising to double farm income, the number of farmers dying by suicide has been rising,” read the report.
It is interesting to note that 2021 was also the year that witnessed widespread agitations by farmers and laborers throughout India to repeal a set of predatory anti-labor laws, as previously reported. The demands also included relief from inflation, the legal guarantee of Minimum Support Price (MSP), and a minimum wage to be paid out. Despite that, the situation seems grim.
Among the states, Maharashtra reported the highest number of farm-related suicides, with a devastating total of 4,064 cases. Following closely behind were Karnataka with 2,169 suicides and Madhya Pradesh with 671 cases. Punjab witnessed 270 farm-related deaths, while Haryana recorded 226, Rajasthan reported 141, and Himachal Pradesh saw 24 tragic incidents. Compared to the previous year, nine states experienced an alarming increase in suicides in 2021, with Assam alone witnessing a nearly 13-fold rise.
A government report from 2016-17 had previously identified three main reasons behind this trend: frequent crop failures due to unpredictable weather patterns, the absence of reliable water resources, and increased pest attacks or diseases.
Furthermore, a parliamentary panel on agriculture tabled a report in Parliament on March 23 of this year, exposing the government’s failure to achieve its goal of doubling farm income by 2022. The panel revealed that the average monthly income of agricultural households had only marginally increased by about Rs 2,000, rising from Rs 8,059 in 2015-16 to Rs 10,218 in 2018-19. This marginal increase scarcely accounts for the atmosphere of retail inflation that has gripped India in the recent months.
Addressing the situation, Devinder Sharma, an agriculture expert, emphasized that farmers were unable to attain their rightful income and were trapped in a vicious cycle of debt. Sharma urged the government to provide direct income support to alleviate their conditions.