Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis says his govt has tried to handle the drought situation, but any farmer suicide remains a matter of concern.
Mumbai: Farmer suicides in Maharashtra have nearly doubled in the four years of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, despite a surge in the overall expenditure on the agriculture sector.
Data from the state’s relief and rehabilitation department shows that 11,225 farmer suicides were recorded between January 2015 and September 2018, though the numbers have been showing a slight dip with each passing year.
In comparison, the first four years of the previous Congress-NCP government in the state (January 2010 to December 2013) saw 6,028 cases of farmer suicides.
Overall, since 2001, 28,928 farmers have committed suicide in the state, as on 30 September 2018.
The biggest factor behind this tragic phenomenon, according to the government as well as experts, has been the paucity of rainfall, which has impacted output and costs. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said his government had been trying to improve the situation for farmers, but it would remain a matter for concern as long as farmers continued to die.
Under pressure from protesting farmers and opposition parties, Fadnavis’s government had rolled out a Rs 21,500-crore farm loan waiver for 47 lakh eligible farmers last year.
A tragedy in numbers
As per the state’s annual economic survey, the rainfall in 2014-15 and 2015-16 was 70.2 percent and 59.4 percent of the normal level. The situation improved in 2016-17 and 2017-18, with the state recording 94.9 percent and 84.3 percent rainfall.
The highest number of farmer suicides since 2001 was recorded in 2015, the first full year of the Fadnavis government, when parts of the state were gripped by a severe drought.
A total of 3,263 farmers ended their lives in distress, with 1,541 of these cases — about 47 per cent — being from Vidarbha (Amravati and Nagpur divisions), and another 1,130 from the Aurangabad division, which lies in the water-scarce Marathwada region.
Over the next two years, the number of suicides dipped, but only slightly. In 2016, the government recorded 3,080 cases, while the corresponding figure for 2017 was 2,917 — the second and the third highest respectively since 2001.
The number may drop further in 2018, with the government having recorded 1,965 cases in the first nine months. However, the state has received only 77 per cent of its average rainfall between June and September.
With rain continuing to elude some parts of Maharashtra this year too, the state government has declared a drought-like situation in 180 talukas across Marathwada, Vidarbha and northern Maharashtra.
Speaking to ThePrint Sunday, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said his government had had to constantly tackle drought-like conditions, but that any farmer suicide was always going to be a matter of concern.
“The numbers are reducing, but I don’t think suicides can be an indicator (of performance). Instead of going into the figures and saying the cases have increased or decreased, till the time such incidents are taking place, it will always be a matter of concern,” Fadnavis said.
He added that barring the year 2016-17, his government had continuously faced drought, and expressed faith that it had handled the situation well, and would continue to do so.
Sangeeta Shroff, professor at the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics in Pune, said the high number of farmer suicides was a consequence of the deep agrarian distress, which ran from February 2013 to 2015-16.
“Unseasonal rains and hailstorms damaged crops in February 2013. Post that, 2014-15 and 2015-16 were both drought years. There was a total failure of crops such as cotton and soybean. For many farmers, the output was zero. They did not even harvest the crop. The prices too did not increase and the cost of cultivation was very high,” said Shroff, who has studied the issue of farm distress and suicides in detail.
She added that what deepened the crisis is that only 0.3 per cent of area under soybean cultivation has access to irrigation, while for cotton it is 3 per cent.
Shroff said it would take a few years to see if schemes such as Jalyukt Shivar launched by the Fadnavis government are capable of improving the situation.
Jalyukt Shivar was one of Fadnavis’s earliest initiatives to increase the moisture content of the soil, and the chief minister regards the scheme as one of his biggest achievements in the government’s four-year tenure so far.
Kishore Tiwari, farm activist and chairman of the Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission, a Maharashtra government taskforce, said farmer suicides were a direct indication of farm distress.
“Crop failure has been a constant since the last 2-3 years. Rainfall has not been adequate, crop loans to farmers have not increased, input costs are high and the prices of farm produce are not sufficient in comparison,” Tiwari said.
“The previous government completely lacked perspective. At least this government is saying the right things, though it has not done much. The core issues of cost, crop and credit have to be addressed together. Till then, the distress will continue.”