Thu, 10 Mar 2011 18:15:54 GMT | By Dipankar Paul, India Syndicate

Every 12 hours, one farmer commits suicide in India

The numbers are stark and in your face: According to The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data from 2009, more than 2,16, 000 farmers have killed themselves since 1997. Add the figures for 1995, 1996 and 2010 and the total crosses 2,50,000. That is, two farmers a day for the past 15 years.

Every 12 hours, one farmer commits suicide in India

Veteran journalist and The Hindu Rural Affairs editor P Sainath says: "We have been undergoing the largest catastrophe of our independent history - the suicides of nearly a quarter of a million farmers since 1995. We are talking of the largest recorded rate of suicides in human history.

Sainath was speaking at the Third Michael Sprinker Lecture on 'Death on the Farm: Agrarian crisis and inequality' at the Institute of Development Studies in Kolkata.

Bringing to light several stark contrasts in India, where the average CEO earns 30,000 times more than the average worker, Sainath said "While labour productivity rose 84%, real wages of labourers dropped 22%. The country imports wheat from Australia, which was importing wheat nine years ago from Punjab. It exports 20 million tonnes of grain at Rs 5.45/kg, whereas the same grain is sold to the poor at Rs 6.15/kg."

And there lies the problem, which UPA 2 calls systemic. Agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, whose state has the worst figures for the 10th consecutive year, has stopped quoting NCRB figures since 2007.

In 2009, more than 17,000 farmers committed suicide in 2009, the worst count since 2004.

But the figures could be worse, says Sainath, who first published the story. He explains the actual numbers could be beyond a quarter million people.

"The numbers are from the annual report of the Government of India's own National Crime Records Bureau. Their yearly total for farmer suicide from 1995 to 2009 bring us to a total of 2,40,000. So even if we assume that 2010 saw far fewer suicides than the average of the last decade, it still takes the figure past 2,50,000 or a quarter of a million farmer suicides," says P Sainath.

If you haven't woken up yet, now is the time.

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