Ruchika M Khanna
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, March 28
Over 7,300 farm labourers in Punjab have died by suicide between 2000 and 2018. As many as 5,765 of these (79 per cent of total suicides by farm labourers) were because of high indebtedness and inability to repay the loan.
An average agricultural labour family in the state has a debt of Rs 76,017 while the agricultural labourer suicide victim family had an average debt of Rs 94,579. An overwhelming 92 per cent of this debt had been taken by the victims from non-institutional sources, mainly from large farmers and private moneylenders which made them ineligible for the state government’s debt relief scheme.
What is ghastly is that suicide in the agricultural labour families was not restricted to a single member. As many as 238 families saw two members dying by suicide, 30 saw three suicides and three families saw four or more members taking their lives. Though the suicide mortality rate — number of suicides per lakh farm labourers — was the highest in Sangrur (20.80), followed by Barnala (19.05) and Mansa (18.62), the proportion of debt-related suicides was the highest in Barnala (90.17) and the lowest in Ludhiana (56.52). These are the findings of a study ‘Agrarian Crisis and Agricultural Labourer Suicides in Punjab’ commissioned by the state government to eminent economist Sukhpal Singh from Punjab Agricultural University, along with Manjeet Kaur and HS Kingra. The study gains significance as the public discourse has so far been only on farmer suicides though labourers form over 42 per cent of the total agriculture workforce in the state. Sukhpal Singh, while talking to The Tribune, says in today’s time when three farm laws have been enacted, the study signals how the economic distress will deepen once the corporatisation of agriculture begins. “The new Acts will deteriorate the economic condition of farmers as well as labourers,” he says.
Short-term policy interventions
- Waive debt of all categories for suicide victim families
- Give reasonable compensation (beyond Rs3 lakh given now) within a week to families
- Ensure that compensation is provided to all victims, considering most cases of labourers are rejected
Long-term policy recommendations
- Hike wage rates of labourers in consonance with inflation
- Safeguard land-related legal entitlements of landless labourers
- Ensure land ceiling is followed; distribute surplus land with owners at nominal rates to farm labourers
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