29% increase in suicides by farm labourers from 2019
The National Crime Record Bureau has released an alarming statistic. An agricultural labourer died by suicide every two hours and a total 1,64,033 people died of suicide in India in 2021.
The number amounts to 5,563 suicides by farm labourers, which is a 9 per cent increase from 2020 and a 29 per cent increase from 2019.
The highest numbers were recorded in Maharashtra (1,424), Karnataka (999) and Andhra Pradesh (584).
In any agricultural household, the three sources of income are cultivation, livestock and daily wage. The household income for a farmer from cultivation declined from 48 per cent in 2013 to 38 per cent in 2021.
Daily wage is the biggest contributor to household income. This is a fundamental change in the economy of these households. Apart from agricultural labourers, 5,318 farmers also committed suicide, taking the total number of people who died by suicide in the farming sector to 10,881 or 6.6% of total suicide victims.
As per the NCRB report, certain states and Union territories — West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Tripura, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chandigarh, Lakshadweep, and Puducherry — reported zero suicides by farmers/cultivators as well as agricultural labourers.
By 2023, India has promised to double its farmers’ incomes from 2015-16 levels. Considering the decline in income from cultivation, this is unlikely to happen. Moreover, the economy has seen a slump since 2016, beginning with demonetisation. Then a two-year COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to job opportunities for everyone.
This is when many daily wage labourers moved back to their villages and started earning a living as agricultural labourers. Daily wage earners accounted for 25 per cent of suicides in the country, making it the largest profession-wise. Currently, the unemployment rate is one of the highest in decades.
Agriculture is known to reduce rural poverty faster than the economic growth rate. But as more people move to agricultural labor and income from cultivation reduces, agricultural income might not be enough anymore for poverty reduction.
Agricultural produce has already suffered in India this year because of the heat waves.
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