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Sanjeev Kumar Patro

Bhubaneswar: What Ron Delegge II had said, “99 per cent of all statistics only tell 49 per cent of the story," proved a classic truth, when the State Agriculture Minister Arun Sahoo tabled the stats on farmer suicides over the years in Odisha. The Minister has even gone to the extent of saying that a farmer had committed suicide due to family members’ 'boredom'.

Replying to a query on number of farmers who have taken the extreme step in the State, Agri min Sahoo tabled a written statement that showed 38 farmers had committed suicide between 2016-17 and 2018-19. While 16 farmers had cut short their lives in 2016-17, 20 resorted to this extreme step in 2017-18 and only 2 in 2018-19.

The semantics of the statement laid on the table hides half of the farmer suicide incidents in the State.

The big revelation is Odisha government is yet to arrive at a conclusion in almost 80 per cent of cases even after three years, as the post-mortem reports are still under scrutiny.

And in almost 100 per cent cases, the Agriculture Department used the word 'May' to say, "The unnatural death 'may' not be due to crop loss or burden or the death 'may' be due to family dispute, personal reason or other reason (not specified) and, even, may be due to 'boredom'."  

As per the data tabled in the House, a farmer from Boudh, Ballabha Dharei, had ended his life on March 15, 2017. The district administration had conducted an enquiry. The enquiry reached to the conclusion that "The un-natural death of Ballabha Dharei is not related to crop loss or crop loan rather 'may' be due to issues like mis-understanding among family members boredom coupled with psychological stress."

Similarly, on the tabled data on a  farmer, Manoranjan Sahu who committed suicide in March 2017, the Minister replied that the investigation is yet to be completed. This is not a single instance. In almost 80-85  per cent cases, the reply of the minister says the inquiry of post-mortem report is still on.

The semantics and inordinate delay in completing investigation in such open and shut suicide cases throw not only a poor light on the governance but also points to a grave pattern, where the government is in denial mode on farmer suicides in the State.

The tabled statement also remained eloquently silent on the fact of whether the farmers who have committed suicides had faced crop loss, and, whether, they incur any debt burden or not.

Interestingly, the then Agriculture minister Pradeep Maharathy in 2015-16 had placed an unnatural death list of 139 farmers. And then in Assembly, the statement admitted to the fact they have loan burden, that too crop loan.

An analysis of the data reveals a significant fact. In Odisha,  where 50 per cent such suicide cases are labeled with other or unknown causes, it was observed that almost 60 per cent suicides were by marginal farmers. And the incidences of suicides decline as the landholding size increases, with not a single suicide case reported  in farmer households having large landholdings.

What  does this hint at? Financial condition of a farmer is, therefore, the major trigger behind suicides in Odisha. This when interpreted further, could be attributed to farm distress which is largely noticed in marginal farmer households.

Significantly, in Odisha a whopping 57 per cent of agricultural households are indebted, finds the NSSO survey, which was quoted by the  Odisha Government recently to show it has doubled farmers’ income in a decade (2003-13).

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