The number of agricultural labourers who died by suicide in 2020 was 18% higher than the previous year, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report released recently. However, suicides among landowning farmers dropped slightly during the pandemic year.
The farm sector was one of the few bright spots in the Indian economy last year, recording growth on the back of a healthy monsoon and the continuation of agricultural activities during a lockdown that crippled other sectors. However, landless agricultural labourers who did not benefit from income support schemes such as PM Kisan may have faced higher levels of distress during the pandemic. The NCRB report does not include any indication of the specific causes of suicide among the farm community.
Overall, 10,677 people engaged in the farm sector died by suicide in 2020, slightly higher than the 10,281 who died in 2019. They made up 7% of all suicides in the country.
Most of these deaths were among those whose primary work and main source of income comes from labour activities in agriculture or horticulture. In 2020, 5,098 of these agricultural labourers died by suicide, an 18% rise from the 4,324 who died last year.
However, among farmers who cultivate their own land, with or without the help of other workers, the number of suicides dropped 3.7% from 5,129 to 4,940. Among tenant farmers who cultivate leased land, there was a 23% drop in suicides from 828 to 639.
The worst among States continues to be Maharashtra, with 4,006 suicides in the farm sector, including a 15% increase in farm worker suicides. Other States with a poor record include Karnataka (2016), Andhra Pradesh (889) and Madhya Pradesh (735). Karnataka saw a dismal 43% increase in the number of farm worker suicides in 2020.
Andhra Pradesh was among the few States that saw an improvement, with 14% fewer people in the farm sector dying by suicide. Tamil Nadu also bucked the national trend; although the total number of farm suicides in the State was slightly higher, most of the increase came from landowning cultivators rather than labourers. In comparison to just six landowning farmers who died by suicide in TN in 2019, 76 died in 2020.