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Dodgy Data: Farmer suicides drop 67% in 6 years

With 25 farmers in Karnataka committing suicide in June, it appears evident that rural India is in distress–the long-term cause, a growth rate of almost zero (0.2%), and the immediate cause, crop failures caused by

India TV News Desk [ Updated: July 22, 2015 12:00 IST ]
dodgy data farmer suicides drop 67 in 6 years
dodgy data farmer suicides drop 67 in 6 years

With 25 farmers in Karnataka committing suicide in June, it appears evident that rural India is in distress–the long-term cause, a growth rate of almost zero (0.2%), and the immediate cause, crop failures caused by two years of unseasonal winter rain.

 
Crop failures = farmer suicides.
 
That's a familiar equation. But as rural distress grows, farmer suicides dropped 67% over six years to 2014, according to the latest data released by the National Crime Records Bureau last week.
 
The data confound the familiar equation and raise five questions, the answers to which provide some explanation of what's going on.
 
Could the NCRB data be wrong?
 
No one really believes NCRB data as credible when it comes to farmer suicides, not even the NCRB.
 
The number of reported farmer suicides decreased 67%, from 17,368 in 2009 to 5,650 in 2014, according to the NCRB.  In 2014, farmer suicides constituted 4.3% of total suicides in India, compared with 9% in 2013. This happened because the NCRB changed its data-collection process, and classified farm related suicides under two categories–farmers and agricultural labourers.
 
6,710 agricultural labourers committed suicide (5.4% of total suicides in India) in 2014.
 
“The report of NCRB is nothing but a hoax because it has [been] fabricated to show fewer deaths as the distress level on the ground is much higher,” Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) president Kishor Tiwari said, according to this Business Standard report.
 
He further added that NCRB has listed all landless tribal farmers and leasehold tenancy farmers as agricultural workers and rural suicides cases have been classified as part of the ‘Others' category, which has put a question mark on the report's credibility.


Srijit Mishra, a professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), Mumbai, said NCRB data represent an under-reporting of farmer suicides. Vikram Patel, a psychiatrist with extensive experience on suicide and mental-health issues, was more direct.
 
“NCRB figures cannot be trusted at all,” said Patel. “They are massively biased since reporting suicides require proper investigations, and, hence, the process of collating the figures is highly flawed,” said Patel.
 
“There are two critical aspects regarding the NCRB data,” said Mishra, who has extensively worked on farmer suicides. “Firstly, the data at the aggregate level are underestimates. Secondly, the newly-created category of self-employed (agricultural labourer) would give the impression that this category was included in the earlier reporting, but this should not be the case for the simple reason that agricultural labourers are not self-employed. This also means that this category should not be there in the 2014 classification under self-employed. Thus, raising the question about who they really are.”
 
When IndiaSpend asked an NCRB spokesperson, he agreed the suicide data were suspect.
 
“We do have limitations in terms of collecting suicide data, as we completely rely on data collected from police stations in states,” said Akhilesh Kumar, NCRB's chief statistical officer. “There is not much we can do about it. For the 2014 report, we have tried to revise our proforma and include a little more detailed analysis on profession-wise suicides.”

Srijit Mishra, a professor at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR), Mumbai, said NCRB data represent an under-reporting of farmer suicides. Vikram Patel, a psychiatrist with extensive experience on suicide and mental-health issues, was more direct.
 
“NCRB figures cannot be trusted at all,” said Patel. “They are massively biased since reporting suicides require proper investigations, and, hence, the process of collating the figures is highly flawed,” said Patel.

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