In 10 yrs, 4,688 debt-induced farm suicides
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Punjab now has an official figure for farm suicides due to debt in the decade 2000-2011. In their survey report submitted to the Punjab revenue department, three state universities have put the figure of debt-related suicides at 4,688 in 20 districts. According to the report, 1,743 (37 per cent) of these suicides were committed by labour working on farms, while the remaining 2,945 were by farmers with small landholdings.
It is the first survey documenting the spate of suicides among farmers and agricultural workers in the first half of the decade, mainly in the cotton belt of Malwa following successive crop failures. A staggering 63 per cent of these suicides took place in three districts of Sangrur, Mansa and Bathinda.
Sangrur reported 1,132 cases between the years 2000 to 2008, followed by Mansa, which witnessed 1,013 cases, including highest number (414) of suicides by farm workers. Bathinda is third with 827 cases followed by comparatively smaller district of Barnala, which reported 532 cases. Other districts with three-digit figures on farm suicides due to high debt are Ludhiana (344), Moga (292), Patiala (126) and Muktsar (102), the home turf of ruling Badals.
The non-cotton growing belt comprising Mohali, Fatehgarh Sahib, Nawashahr, Jalandhar, Kapurthala and border districts of Ferozepur, Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Tarn Taran have reported double-digit figures. In two districts, Hoshiarpur and Roopnagar, the number of cases is seven and four, respectively.
"We found that 80 per cent of farmers who committed suicides had small landholdings. Their borrowings for meeting household and farm costs and piling up interest made the debt unsustainable. The suicide graph rose sharply between years 1997 to 2003 in the cotton belt before Bt cotton was introduced. In Sangrur and Bathinda, the two districts which saw one of the highest number of cases, no suicide has been reported after 2008," says Dr Sukhpal Singh of the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, which surveyed the main suicide-hit six districts.