BENGALURU: The year 2015 goes down in history as the deadliest ever for farmers in Karnataka, with 978 of them ending their lives between April and December.
This is the highest ever figure for farmers’ suicides since the formation of the state in 1956, and second only to Maharashtra this year. The government has accepted 323 deaths as suicides triggered by agrarian distress, and said 277 had no connection with farming.
Surprisingly, the highest numbers were reported from districts such as Mandya, Mysuru, Hassan and Belagavi, where farmers are perceived to be relatively well-off, thanks to irrigation.
Figures sourced from the Agriculture Department show Mandya topping the list with 92 suicides, followed by Belagavi with 74. Other districts with high numbers are Haveri (73), Mysuru (62), Hassan (58) and Raichur (56). Drought-prone districts like Vijayapura (36), Kolar (9), Ballari (24) and Chitradurga (49) saw fewer farmer suicides.
A majority of the farmers who committed suicide in well-irrigated districts are said to be sugarcane growers, pushed to desperation over the last couple of years. Over-production of sugar and the subsequent fall in sugar prices hit them hard, and many sugar mills in Karnataka have not paid them their dues.
In official circles, the rise in suicides is being attributed to many factors, such as rising debt among farmers. Off the record, officials say some farmers drive themselves over the edge by splurging on vehicles, marriages and drinks.
Another intriguing aspect of this year’s numbers is that 80 per cent of the deaths were reported between July and October.
The state government had initially argued that not all suicides were caused by the agrarian crisis, but the surge in numbers soon prompted it to announce measures to help farmers. The Siddaramaiah government has increased the compensation for bereaved families from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 5 lakh.
The cost of production is going up. In Mandya, most farmers grow sugarcane, and the surplus production has led to a fall in prices. — Kishor Bhat, research scholar, St John’s Research Centre
These figures are very low, since women are not being considered farmers. Women are the worst hit during an agrarian crisis.
Kavitha Srinivasan, has researched six districts in Karnataka