Alarming rise in farm suicides in seven Punjab districts

There has been an alarming rise in the number of farm suicides in seven districts of Punjab, with more than three times as many people taking their lives in the period April 2010 to December 2016, than was the case in the preceding decade, 2000-2011.

According to a survey conducted by Punjabi University (Patiala), as many as 1,309 cases of farm suicide were reported in Punjab’s seven districts of Faridkot, Fatehgarh Sahib, Hoshiarpur, Patiala, Rupnagar, SAS Nagar and Shri Muktsar Sahib between April 2010 and December 2016. During 2000-2011, the same seven districts recorded 365 cases of farm suicide, of which 211 were of farmers and 154, agricultural labourers.

Since these seven districts do not include Bathinda, Mansa and Sangrur districts, which are known to be the ‘epicentre’ of farmer suicides in Punjab, the overall numbers for the State are expected to be even bleaker.

The latest survey was commissioned by the previous Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (SAD-BJP) government in 2015 and covers all the 22 districts of Punjab. Three universities, Punjab Agricultural University (Ludhiana), Guru Nanak Dev University (Amritsar), and Punjabi University (Patiala) had been tasked with assessing the extent and causes of farmer suicides, with the districts being divided among them.

Punjabi University’s report, a copy of which is with The Hindu, pertained to seven districts. It was submitted to the State government last month. According to this survey, from April 2010 to March 2013, 737 cases of suicide were reported in these seven districts. Of these, 340 suicides were of farmers, and 397 were of agricultural labourers.

Though the original scope of the survey was limited to the period 2010-13, Punjabi University extended the survey, and its report states that from April 1, 2013 to December 2016, these seven districts witnessed 572 cases of suicide, of which 230 were of farmers, and 342, agricultural workers.

Mounting debts

According to the report, the cause of suicide in the overwhelming number of cases was stress due to mounting debt. It stated that of the 737 suicides reported from April 2010 to March 31, 2013, 90.23% (665 suicides) were due to mounting debt, while the remaining 9.77% (72 suicides) were due to other causes.

“Rising input costs, stagnant yields, no appreciable increase in output prices had reduced the farm incomes that led to the severe economic and social distress among the farmers and agricultural labourers,” observed the survey.

The survey further stated that out of the 340 farmers who committed suicide, 124 were marginal farmers (36.47%), 97 were small farmers (28.53%), 62 were semi-medium (18.24%), 31 were medium (9.12%), and only 26 were large farmers (7.65%).

In the seven districts surveyed by Punjabi University, the highest number of suicides (426 cases) were in Shri Muktsar Sahib district, followed by Patiala (190 cases), Faridkot (73 cases), SAS Nagar (18 cases), Fatehgarh Sahib (15 cases), Hoshiarpur (9 cases) and Rupnagar (6 cases) districts.

Most of the farmers and agricultural labourers who committed suicide belonged to the younger and middle age groups. A majority of them had either consumed a poisonous substance or hanged themselves, the survey noted.

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