The Farmers Act- A leeway for midway

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

In India, 70% of the population are directly or indirectly depending upon agriculture. Since independence, India has become one of the largest producers of wheat, edible oil, potato, spices, rubber, tea, fishing, fruits, and vegetables in the world. Post-independence, the five-year plans of India had given due allocation and importance to the agricultural reforms in India and as part of that movement several progressive measures such as land reclamation, mechanization, electrification, use of chemicals and fertilizers were embarked under the government supervision. The green revolution, which marked its dawn in early 1960’s , had converted the agriculture into an industrial system by adopting modern methods and technology such as high yielding seeds, irrigation systems, advent of pesticides and fertilizers etc. The adoption of novel ideas into the farming culture of India had resulted in increase in food grain productivity, especially in states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The liberalization of the economy in 1991 had increased the purchasing power of the middle class of India and the same had spurred the demand for the agricultural products. Similarly, the export market of the agricultural produce continued to grow well over 19.1% annually through 1990’s. In 2019-20, total food grain production in the country is estimated at 296.65 million tonnes which is higher by 11.44 million tonnes than the production of food grain of 285.21 million tonnes during 2018-19. Rice production during 2019-20 is estimated at 118.4 million tonnes as compared to 116.5 million tonnes in 2018-19. Wheat production during 2019-20 is estimated at 107.6 million tonnes as compared to 103.6million tonnes during 2018-19. Government has increased Minimum Support Prices (MSP) for all mandated kharif, rabi and other commercial crops. The enhanced MSP ensures a return of 1.5 times overall India weighted average cost of production for the season 2020-21.

Farmers’ suicide amidst sectoral growth

In contrast to the prosperity in the agricultural sector, most strikingly, the suicide among the farmers had shown a sharp increase during the said period. In the ten year period between 1997 and 2006 as many as 166,304 farmers committed suicide in India. The National Crime Records Bureau of India reported in its 2012 annual report, that 135,445 people committed suicide in India, of which 13,755 were farmers (11.2%) Of these, 5 out of 29 states accounted for 10,486 farmers suicides (76%) – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala. According to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) the states with the highest incidence of farmer suicide in 2015 were Maharashtra (3,030), Telangana (1,358), Karnataka (1,197), Madhya Pradesh (581), Andhra Pradesh (516), and Chattisgarh(854). National Crime Records Bureau of India reported that a total 296,438 Indian farmers had committed suicide since 1995[4]. Out of these, 60,750 farmer suicides were in the state of Maharashtra since 1995 and the remaining in Odisha, Telangana , Andhra Pradesh Madhya Pradesh , Gujarat and Chattisgarh, the states with loose financial and entry regulations. As per the Annual report- 2019 of the NCRB , total of 10,281 persons involved in farming sector (consisting of 5,957 farmers/cultivators and 4,324 agricultural labourers) have committed suicides during 2019, accounting for 7.4% of total suicides victims (1,39,123) in the country. Out of 5,957 farmer/cultivator suicides, a total of 5,563 were male and 394 were female. As per the said report, Certain States/UTs namely, West Bengal, Bihar, Odisha, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Chandigarh, Daman & Diu, Delhi UT, Lakshadweep and Puducherry reported zero suicides of Farmers/Cultivators as well as Agricultural Labourers during the year 2019.

Though the states had announced several packages to reduce the suicide among the farmers, the results were bleak. So, inspite of continuous growth rate in the agricultural sector, the real beneficiaries are still in dire state. What will be the real reason for the same?. Though there are various theories such as floods, drought, debt, use of genetically modified seeds etc as reasons for the farmers suicide there is no consensus on the same. The most relevant reason is “debt”. With amble legislations in place, why the farmers are still debt laden and are more vulnerable to suicide?