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Mr FM, denial won't save Chhattisgarh farmers!

By Shubhranshu Choudhary
March 21, 2008 18:37 IST
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Bandage gives immediate relief for a wound, but it is no cure for the deep malady -- if there is one within. Finance Minister P Chidambaram's budgetary move to waive off farm loans is like a bandage for an AIDS lesion. It may sooth the casual observer's sensitivity to an eyesore, but would it help the patient? What is the doctor's opinion and what damage shall be caused because of the cover up? 

I
n Chhattisgarh, the problem is slightly complicated.

There is a general inability to acknowledge the lesion. There is no diagnosis here really; this may well be cancer or just dermatitis. There is fear of revelation through a biopsy -- because a biopsy implies that cancer is a consideration.

And so we have public feeling being expressed by intellectuals on a public forum, which is not supported by any scientific fact. Is it acceptable? It does take away the possibility of a cure.

So shall we say a small prayer, take courage in our hands and open our eyes to reality?

The issue of farmer suicide has been in public domain since a decade, thanks to journalists like P Sainath. But Chhattisgarh was never highlighted as a problem state. It is a new state after all. Relief packages for farmers have till date gone only to four states -- Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala.

Figures tell their own story -- a worrying story. According to National Crime Record Bureau data of 2006, Maharashtra topped the number of farmer suicides with a figure of 4453 deaths followed by Andhra Pradesh with 2607 farmer suicides. Karnataka came third with 1720 deaths.

Chhattisgarh was ranked number four -- 1483 farmer suicides or 4 deaths a day. The figure was much higher than the fifth state, Kerala.

Why then was Kerala acknowledged and not Chhattisgarh? 

The Farmer Suicide Rate is obtained by a small mathematical calculation of dividing the number of farmers committing suicide by the number of farmers in the state, multiplied by 100,000. This means the figures are not in terms of percentage, but per lakh farmers.

The Farmer Suicide Rate is highest in Kerala, 142.9 per 1 lakh farmers. On this list Chhattisgarh is at number 3 with 33.7, just behind Karnataka with a figure of 36.4.

States with bigger number of farmer suicides, like Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, are behind Chhattisgarh in this table with figures of 29.9 and 19.2 respectively. But still no package goes to Chhattisgarh and no one talks about it either.

As another criterion, Professor Srijit Mishra of Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai, calculates the figure of male farmers committing suicide per 100,000 farmers. He calls it Suicide Mortality Rate. 

Kerala once again has the highest Suicide Mortality Rate between 2001 and 2005 with an aggregate of 194.7 male farmers per 100,000 farmers. Here Maharashtra (50.6) is just ahead of Chhattisgarh (44.8). Other states -- Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh -- follow Chhattisgarh with lower figures of 40.8 and 33.2 respectively.

Prof Mishra raised the issue of Chhattisgarh in his paper written in September 2007. He says Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala received adequate media attention and subsequent packages from the Centre, but that was not the case with Chhattisgarh. 

Most dramatic figures come from Yuvraj Gajpal, a research scholar in McMaster University in Canada. He calculates the rate of farmer suicides per 1 lakh population. According to Gajpal's calculation, Chhattisgarh has been topping the list every year since 2001.

For the year 2006, Chhattisgarh has a figure of 6.49 farmer suicide per 1 lakh population. Maharashtra follows with 4.28. Usual suspects are just behind -- Kerala (3.35), Andhra Pradesh (3.24) and Karnataka (2.57).

In a nutshell, whichever method of calculation you choose, Chhattisgarh remains in the top five states for farmer suicides.

However, media and politicians in the state remain unconvinced. 

Sunil Kumar, editor of newspaper Daily Chhattisgarh, claims: "Media in Chhattisgarh is not blind that four farmers commit suicide a day and we will not even come to know about it."

Sunil Kumar recently wrote a descriptive article describing P Sainath's work on farmer suicides from across the country as scare mongering, exaggeration and half truth. He, however, does not elaborate the basis of his conclusion.

Another journalist, Alok Putul, wrote a front page article Everyone loves a good fraud. (A dig at Sainath's famous book Everyone loves a good drought). Putul calls the figures of farmer suicides a bundle of lies, claiming his study shows that only one farmer commits suicide in Chhattisgarh every year. 

Sainath mocked: 'This is like calling an election fraud if the results are not to our liking. Even Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has accepted the NCRB figures on farmer suicides as indicators and the basis of work in India, on the floor of Parliament. And if there is only one farmer committing suicide in Chhattisgarh every year, then I suggest farmers from US and Europe to shift to Chhattisgarh.'

A couple of Congress leaders have raised the issue in Chhattisgarh Vidhan Sabha. But big leaders from opposition Congress remain unconvinced. So there is no pressure on the Bharatiy Janat Party government to respond. It is possible that it is just a slip -- and it is difficult to accept a slip, without implications of malice.

State Director General of Police Vishwaranjan stands firm. He tells journalists, "We have never sent these figures. There is no column for farmer suicides in the data we send to National Crime Records Bureau."

NCRB officials do not want to be named, but are happy to point out: "We do not have any offices in states. We get figures from the states. If you are saying these figures are false, then please ask your state police chief why they are sending false figures?"

Chief statistician R S Chaurasia in State Crime Records Bureau, Raipur, sits few yards away in the same office as the DGP. He confirms that all figures in NCRB for Chhattisgarh were collected by them.

These are the facts. They do seem not make a good picture. Too bad.

Does it mean we should not explore the issue further? All that is required -- an exploration, a study; the beginning of a deep enquiry into the malady.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi

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