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Agrarian Crisis in India$

D. Narasimha Reddy and Srijit Mishra

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780198069096

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198069096.001.0001

Agrarian Distress and Farmers' Suicides in Maharashtra 1

(p.126) 6 Agrarian Distress and Farmers' Suicides in Maharashtra1
Agrarian Crisis in India

Srijit Mishra

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter first examines the structural characteristics of Maharashtra, where most of the workforce continue to depend on agriculture, even as the sector's share in state domestic product has sharply declined. It then examines trends in public investment, credit, and related issues in agriculture. The main focus is on farmers' suicides in western Vidarbha. The chapter shows that farmers face a variety of risks ranging from uncertain weather to lack of proper technology, volatile markets, lack of proper technology, inadequate institutional credit, and spurious inputs. However, it was indebtedness that proved to play a critical role in farmer suicides. Despite the comprehensive intervention package provided by the Union government, its design and implementation suffer from several deficiencies.

Keywords:   Maharashtra, farmers' suicides, farmers, agriculture, public investment, credit, indebtedness, Vidarbha


The dynamism exhibited by the Indian economy with the unprecedented high rate of growth after the initiation of economic reforms, especially after the mid-1990s, has several perplexing factors. The impressive growth is largely a story of the service sector and to a lesser extent for industry whereas agriculture is lagging behind. There is deceleration in agriculture, which is bordering on distress. This has manifested in suicides of farmers in many parts of the country. Maharashtra is one of the examples where on the one hand, there has been high incidence of farmers' suicides and, on the other hand there has been high growth in the non-agricultural sector, resulting in further polarization of urban-rural disparities.

The main objective of this chapter is to examine the policy and other factors contributing to agrarian distress in the state. The issue is examined within the context of reforms and the prevailing conditions of agriculture in relatively resource-poor and high-risk zones of the state. Besides making use of secondary sources, a fairly large household survey was conducted in Western Vidarbha,2 where high incidence of farmers' suicides has been witnessed.3 While the selection of the suicide households was from the list of reported cases, the choice of the control group household involved selecting someone similar to the suicide household based on socio-economic characteristics such (p.127) as land size, caste, or other parameters. These were supplemented through focus group discussions and some village level information.

Besides this brief introduction, the chapter is divided into five other sections. Beginning with the contrasting growth between agricultural and non-agricultural sectors, the second section also shows the shrinking share of agriculture in the state income with a continued dependence of the majority of the workforce in the sector. It presents a picture of agriculture in the state with particular reference to Western Vidarbha. The third section examines changes in the policy domain and the institutional arrangements in the context of certain identifiable risks with agriculture. The fourth and fifth sections are detailed analysis of farmers’ suicides with particular reference to Western Vidarbha. Based on the primary survey, it tries to identify some important socio-economic correlates of farmers’ suicides. The sixth section is a brief analysis of the policy response to the larger crisis. The last section presents certain concluding observations.

Agrarian Condition in Maharashtra

Maharashtra is among the richest states of India. In 2004–5, its per capita net state domestic product (NSDP) of Rs 32,170 in current prices was second only to Haryana, yet its head count ratio of poverty at 31 per cent in 2004–5 is higher than the all-India average of 28 per cent.4 One of the main reasons for the incidence of high poverty amidst high level of average income in Maharashtra is due to the extreme sectoral and regional inequalities. The sectoral inequality worsened in the post-reform period because of near stagnation of agriculture. Table 6.1 shows sectoral growth rates during the pre-reform (1980–1 to 1992–3) and post-reform (1993–4 to 2004–5) periods. While overall growth rates in the industrial sector have shown deceleration, it is agriculture that reached the lowest level, from 3.5 per cent in the pre-reform period to 0.8 per cent in the post-reform period. The dismal growth performance of agriculture caused further contraction of its share in gross state domestic product (GSDP) from 19.5 per cent in 1993–4 to 11.3 per cent in 2003–4 (Figure 6.1). What is more, during the same period the proportion of rural households depending on agriculture declined only marginally, from 73 per cent to 67.6 per cent as per National Sample Survey (NSS) estimates. At the turn of the century, 55 per cent of all workers and 80 per cent of rural workers in Maharashtra (p.128) were still dependent on agriculture. Thus, it is not just a coincidence that this is also the period that witnessed an increase in the incidence of farmers’ suicides—a symptom of the larger agrarian crisis.

Table 6.1 Sectoral Linear Trend Growth Rates in Maharashtra during the 1980s and 1990s


1980–1 to 1992–3 (1980–1 prices)

1993–4 to 2004–5 (1993–4 prices)










Total GSDP



Note: GSDP indicates Gross State Domestic Product. * indicates that the linear trend growth rate is significantly different from zero at 95 per cent confidence interval.

Source: Calculated from State Domestic Product (State series), http://mospi.nic.in/ (accessed on 2 October 2007).

Agrarian Distress and Farmers' Suicides in Maharashtra                                                     1

Figure 6.1 Sectoral Distribution of Gross State Domestic Product at Current Prices: 1993–4 to 2004–5

Source: Central Statistical Organisaton, State Domestic Product (State series), http:// mospi.nic.in/mospi_cso_rept_pubn.htm (accessed 30 September 2007).


Table 6.2 Some Agrarian Features across NSS Regions of Maharashtra


Western Maharashtra

Northern Maharashtra


Western Vidarbha

Eastern Vidarbha


Average rainfall (May–October), 55+ years (mm)








Area irrigated (NIA/NSA), 1998–9 (%)








Area under Cereals, TE 2004–5 (%)








Per capita cereal, TE 2004–5 (Kg)








Average land size, 2003 (hectares)








Gini coefficient of land possessed, 2003 (%)








Small & marginal farmers, 2003 (%)








Agricultural labourers/cultivators, 2001 (%)








Expenditure/Agricultural Receipts, 2002–3 (%)








Returns per farmer household, 2002–3 (Rs)








ST, SC, and OBC farmers, 2003 (%)








Farmers not liking farming, 2003 (%)








SMR for male farmers, 2001–4








Note: NIA and NSA denote Net Irrigated Area and Net Sown Area respectively; TE denotes Triennium ending; ST, SC, and OBC denote Scheduled Tribe, Scheduled Caste, and Other Backward Classes, respectively; and SMR denotes Suicide Mortality Rate, i.e., suicide deaths per 100,000 persons. Average rainfall is for the period 21–44 weeks (May–October) for more than 55 years. Per capita cereal production for TE 2004–5 is calculated with 2001 census of rural population.

Source: For average rainfall, http://agri.mah.nic.in/ (12 October 2007); for area irrigated, http://www.indiastat.com (accessed 10 October 2007); for area and production, personal communication, Commissioner Agriculture, Government of Maharashtra; for population related data, Census of India; for suicide data, personal communication, CID, Government of Maharashtra; all other estimates are based on calculations using unit level data from the 33rd schedule, 59th round of National Sample Survey on Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers, 2003.

(p.130) (p.131)

Agriculture in Maharashtra is not only stagnant but is characterized by extreme and growing regional disparities, with parts of the state experiencing negative growth during the last decade,5 resulting in extreme forms of distress among the farming community. For administrative purposes, Maharashtra is divided into six divisions. The National Sample Survey also divides this into six regions based on agro-climatic conditions. The two classifications are broadly similar but for a few deviations.6 In the subsequent discussion, use is made of the NSS regions.

Some agrarian features across the six NSS regions are given in Table 6.2. For Western Vidarbha, average rainfall during May–October is considered somewhat better at about 35–80 millimetres more than the drought-prone regions of Western Maharashtra and Marathwada, but is much lower than the rain-assured Eastern Vidarbha or the rain-abundant Konkan region. Area irrigated in Western Vidarbha is also among the lowest. This along with other infrastructural and public intervention backlogs leading to regional imbalances, which were pointed out by the Dandekar committee (Government of Maharashtra [GoM] 1984), has continued and remains a grievance of the region. The region’s advantage has been its black soil, which is considered good for cotton, and as a result, relatively larger areas have been under this cash crop. In recent years, there have been many difficulties with cotton cultivation and there has been a shift away from this crop (Figure 6.2). What is worrying is that the area under cereals, which has been relatively lower, has also been declining. Using the 2001 rural population as base, the per-capita cereal production in this region is among the lowest.

The average land size possessed per farmer household is higher in Western Vidarbha and this is also reflected in a less inequitable land distribution and a relatively lower proportion of small and marginal farmers. These seem to match with characteristics of relatively land-abundant rainfed agriculture where productivity is lower. It is perplexing to know that this is also a region with relatively higher proportion of agricultural labourers. This is indicative of the fact that there is a divide between the land-owning cultivating class and the landless agricultural labourers. Another matter of concern is that expenditure, as a proportion of receipts, is relatively higher in agriculture. Part of this could be because of the high costs (p.132) of cultivation. Then again there was the drought in 2002–3, but its severity was much more in Konkan, Eastern Vidarbha, and Western Maharashtra (GOM 2003). After controlling for these, the returns to cultivation in Western Vidarbha are poor. With such returns, farmers are not able to adequately meet even the requirements of food. This is reflected in the fact that while poverty is declining (particularly, among farmers), the same is not true with regard to the number of undernourished (Reddy and Mishra 2008).

Agrarian Distress and Farmers' Suicides in Maharashtra                                                     1

Figure 6.2 Cropping Pattern Across Regions of Maharashtra: TE 1992–3 and TE 2004–5

Note: TE denotes Triennium ending, KO denotes Konkan, WM denotes Western Maharashtra, NM denotes Northern Maharashtra, MW denotes Marathwada, WV denotes Western Vidarbha, EV denotes Eastern Vidarbha and MA denotes Maharashtra.

Source: For TE 1992–3, Districtwise Agricultural Statistical Information of Maharashtra, Part-II, 1999, Office of the Commissioner Agriculture, Government of Maharashtra; for TE 2004–5 personal communication, Commissioner Agriculture, Government of Maharashtra.

(p.133) The relatively larger proportion of farmer households that are either scheduled groups or other backward classes (largely comprising Kunbis, a peasant community, and nomadic tribes) and the virtual absence of the politically dominant caste, such as Maratha farmers in Western Maharashtra, have worked to the disadvantage of Vidarbha. Despite all odds, the Western Vidarbha farmer likes his profession—a relatively lower proportion of the farmers do not like farming. This is not enough to save the Western Vidarbha farmer. The region is under a severe agrarian crisis and its worst manifestation is in the high incidence of farmers’ suicides.

The plight of the Western Vidarbha farmer is in some sense linked with that of cotton or rather its declining profitability because of increasing costs and relatively lower yields. In 2005–6, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) projected the costs of cultivation in Maharashtra per quintal of cotton at Rs 2303.7 The minimum support price (MSP) fixed by the government was Rs 1760 for short staple and Rs 1980 for long staple. The farmer receives the MSP if the produce is of fair average quality and if it is sold in authorized centres. In practice, farmers sell the produce in the open market where the prevailing price could be lower than the MSP.8

In 2004–5, production of cotton was a record high worldwide, as also in India. Maharashtra’s production at 52 lakh bales showed a 68 per cent increase over the previous year’s 31 lakh bales.9 This was largely because of a record yield of 297 kilograms/hectare in the state. Regardless of this, Maharashtra’s productivity at 64 per cent of the national average continues to be among the lowest. This growth would have bypassed parts of Western Vidarbha where the monsoon scenario in May–October 2004 was largely deficient. In short, the cotton farmer in this region faced both price as well as yield shocks simultaneously.

On cotton prices, there are a number of other relevant factors. Excess international supply at a lower price is also because of direct and indirect subsidies leading to dumping by the USA. During the period 1998–2003, cotton export prices from USA were lower than their cost of production by more than 50 per cent on average (Murphy et al. 2005). Domestic policies in India have led to the removal of quantitative restrictions and subsequently reduction of import tariff from 35 per cent in 2001–2 to 5 per cent in 2002–3. All these exposed the domestic prices to the volatility of international prices that has (p.134) been adversely affecting the cotton farmer. Similarly, excessive cotton exports leading to an increase in yarn prices can adversely affect the handloom and power loom weavers. The dismantling of the monopoly cotton procurement scheme has meant that when the farmer is being exposed to the global market, there is no mechanism that will guard him/her against the price volatility.

The Western Vidarbha farmer seems to be at the receiving end because of the uncertainties from weather, market shocks, and apathy of public policies leading to grave consequences, as indicated by the alarmingly high incidence of farmers’ suicides. The next section elaborates on the role of the state.

Public Investment, Credit, and Related Issues

The state’s role in agricultural growth is examined by looking at, among others, public investment in agriculture, rural financial market, and agricultural extension. That there was gross neglect of agriculture by the state in the 1990s is reflected from the drastic decline in capital expenditure on agriculture and allied activities (Table 6.3). Only as a response to the crisis that erupted in the increasing numbers of farmers’ suicides was there a revival of capital expenditure in the initial years of the Tenth Plan (2002–5). This is also evident when one normalizes the real capital expenditure with per hectare of net sown area or as a proportion of agricultural NSDP. The actual impact of the (p.135) recent revival would be known after some time lag, say, four-to-five years. Nevertheless, an analysis of the nature and pattern of real capital expenditure would be worthwhile. Based on regional imbalances in development within the state and the expenditure required to bridge this, sector-wise backlogs were calculated by the Dandekar committee (GOM 1984). Over time, the irrigation sector backlog has increased for Vidarbha (Table 6.4). Further, expenditure on irrigation for the period 2002–3 to 2004–5 indicates a shortfall from the outlay to the tune of Rs 2528 crore for Vidarbha, Rs 1148 crore for Marathwada, whereas there was excess expenditure for the rest of Maharashtra to the tune of Rs 1586 crore (Government of India (GOI) 2006).

Table 6.3 Real Capital Expenditure (RCE) on Agriculture and Allied Activities in Maharashtra at 1993–4 Prices


Eighth Plan 1993–4 to 1996–7

Ninth Plan 1997–8 to 2001–2

Tenth Plan 2002–3 to 2004–5

RCE on agriculture and allied activities (Rs)




RCE per hectare of net sown area (Rs)




RCE as per cent of agricultural NSDP (%)




Note: NSDP denotes net state domestic product.

Source: Chand, Chapter 2, this volume.

Table 6.4 Backlog in Irrigation Sector across Regions in Maharashtra


As on

30 June 1982

01 April 1994

01 April 2000

01 April 2002











Rest of Maharashtra










Source: GoI (2006).

Recent trends from basic statistical returns (BSR) provided by the Reserve Bank of India with regard to agricultural credit in Maharashtra from 1991 to 2004 indicate the following. Credit utilization to agriculture as a proportion of total credit utilization in the state has declined from 20.2 per cent to 11.2 per cent—this is largely off set by an increase in personal loans. Agricultural credit utilization is shifting from rural regions to urban areas, with Mumbai’s share having increased from 5 per cent to 48 per cent. Within agriculture, the share of direct finance reduced from 79 per cent to 51 per cent. Even after excluding Mumbai, the region-wise distribution shows a decline in the share of both direct and indirect finance components of agricultural credit in Vidarbha—for the seven districts of Western Vidarbha agricultural credit (both direct and indirect) declined from 18.0 per cent in TE 1992–3 to 14.3 per cent in TE 2003–4.

(p.136) The Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers (33rd schedule, NSS 59th round, 2003) indicates that in Western Vidarbha, as compared to Maharashtra, a relatively higher proportion of farmer households are indebted, whereas average outstanding amount per farmer household is lower (Table 6.5). Across caste groups and size-class of land possessed, one also observes a positive association with proportion of the indebted and the average amount of outstanding debt per farmer household. When we consider the amount outstanding per indebted (p.137) household, then the indebted small farmers have a higher burden than indebted semi-medium farmers. A similar picture emerges for the near landless, but then this group is less than one per cent of the farmer population.

Table 6.5 Farmer Indebtedness: 2003

Household Identification

Western Vidarbha



Amount outstanding per farmer HH (Rs)

Indebted HH, %

Amount outstanding per farmer HH (Rs)

Indebted HH, %

Amount outstanding per farmer HH (Rs)

Indebted HH, %

Scheduled Tribes







Scheduled Castes







Other Backward Castes







Other castes







Near landless farmers







Marginal farmers







Small farmers







Semi-medium farmers







Medium farmers







Large farmers







All farmer households







Note: HH indicates household. Near landless (0–0.099 hectares), Marginal (0.1–1 hectares), Small (1.01–2 hectares), Semi-medium (2.01–4 hectares), Medium (4.01–10 hectares), Large (10+ hectares).

Source: Estimates based on unit level data from 33rd schedule, 59th round of National Sample Survey on Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers, 2003.

The formal sources account for more than 80 per cent of the amount outstanding in the state. In particular, cooperative banks have been an important source of credit (more than half of the amount outstanding compared to about one-fifth for India) for agricultural purposes in rural areas. However, much of these loans are likely to be outstanding debts, not current loans. A recent study of Yavatmal indicates that more than half the members are defaulters with their credit lines being chocked up from one to many years (Sarangi 2004). This is so because over the years, the cooperative credit institutions were faced with a number of problems—high interest rate, accounting practices were not rationalized, and no professional management to mention a few (Government of India 2004). Per hectare loan in Western Vidarbha districts is relatively lower (Shah 2006).

An important issue raised in our focus group discussions (FGDs) conducted in 98 villages with an average participant size of 6–7 (minimum–2, maximum–9) is that current operational loans are likely to be from moneylenders. In 70 per cent of the FGDs, the availability of the informal loans in the village was mentioned. One participant’s remark during an FGD will elucidate the socio-economic dominance of the moneylender. The participant said that: ‘Gentleman, you will go away after this discussion. It is we who have to stay in the village. Please do not probe further into the details. Further revelation by us will make our stay in the village difficult.’

Informal loan transactions could be in dedhi, under which the debtor has to return the loan around harvest, that is, within four to six months of borrowing, and pay Rs 150 for loan of Rs 100. Similarly, there is sawai, involving repayment of Rs 125 for loan of Rs 100. Another popular form of loans for agricultural and social purposes is at an interest rate of Rs 5 to Rs 10 per month for loans of Rs 100. Nonpayment of loan leads to rewriting of a fresh loan with some additional credit being given during the start of the next agricultural season.

A conventional form of collateral is land. Creditors now consider it risky because suicides can lead to cancellation of such contracts, and hence, insist on sale of land with a verbal (not legal) promise that it (p.138) will be sold back to the debtor after the loan is repaid. If required, legal registration expenses on both counts are borne by the debtor. Land seizure or mortgage was mentioned in 17 per cent of FGDs.

Some of the moneylenders would also be traders. Loan taken could be for purchase of an input and repayment through sale of produce. Interlocking of credit, input and output markets are not necessarily enforced by the trader–moneylender, but operating with a single trader–moneylender would save transaction costs to the farmer.

Nearly 50 per cent of FGDs discussed about the paucity of water. Despite delay and deficient rain, there were instances of people (whole villages) opting for a second or third sowing without any groundwater dependence. With seed replacement being almost complete, it contributed to additional expenses for seed. In the last 5–10 years, there has been an increase in the number of spraying for insecticides/pesticides and an increase in the need and cost for fertilizers. All these added to the cost. The issue of spurious quality of inputs also came up in the discussions. This brings forth some important points. First, the absence of an extension service that could have advised the farmers against late sowing or improper use of other inputs. Second, with new technology on the anvil, there is deskilling and farmers’ experience becomes redundant. The private traders selling farm inputs advises the farmer on extension service, leading to supplier-induced demand.

We also came across villages from where many people have migrated out in search of jobs. In 14 per cent of the FGDs, difficulty in getting employment or availability of work at low wages was mentioned. These not only indicate the unavailability of non-farm jobs in the study regions, but also indicate poor public interventions.

One of the important social welfare measures in the state is the Maharashtra Employment Guarantee Scheme (MEGS), which has been in operation since the 1970s. In Western Vidarbha, the share of MEGS expenditure from the state’s total MEGS expenditure decreased from 14.4 per cent in 2000–1 to 6.0 per cent in 2003–4. This is much lower than the region’s share of rural poor (23 per cent as per 1999– 2000 estimates) or its share of rural population (17 per cent as per the 2001 census). The regions share of item-wise expenditure during 2000–1 to 2003–4 was 4.2 per cent for agriculture, 6.5 per cent for irrigation, and 13.0 per cent for horticulture. In particular, it reflects poor intervention in works associated with developing agriculture, (p.139) either directly or indirectly through interventions in irrigation and horticulture. These observations are in line with the findings mentioned in a recent study that MEGS has been successful as a relief measure largely concentrated in drought-prone areas of Marathwada and Western Maharashtra divisions of the state and has had a limited success as a poverty eradication measure (Vatsa 2005).

Farmers’ Suicides in Maharashtra

Recent Trends and Issues

In 2001, Maharashtra constituted about 9.3 per cent of the all-India cultivator population but accounted for 22.7 per cent of the total farmer suicide deaths in the country during 2001–6. Between 1995 and 2006 the total number of farmer suicides in Maharashtra increased by four-fold from 1083 in 1995 to 4453 in 2006. The increase was largely because of an increase in male farmer suicides. During this period, male farmer suicides as a proportion of total male suicides in Maharashtra increased from 14 per cent to 39 per cent. Suicide (p.140) mortality rate (SMR, suicide deaths for 100,000 persons) for male farmers nearly quadrupled from 14.7 in 1995 to 62.6 in 2006 whereas SMR for male non-farmers decreased from 18.0 in 1995 to 14.4 in 2006 (Figure 6.3). As indicated earlier, during 2001–4, SMR for male farmers at 110 in Western Vidarbha is among the highest across all regions of Maharashtra (also see Figure 6.4).

Agrarian Distress and Farmers' Suicides in Maharashtra                                                     1

Figure 6.3 Suicide Mortality Rate (SMR) for Males (Farmers and Non-farmers) in Maharashtra: 1995–2006

Source: For suicides, National Crime Records Bureau (various years); for population, Census of India, 1991 and 2001.

The higher incidence of farmers’ suicides in Western Vidarbha has been receiving a lot of media attention, more so by the vernacular local dailies. It first came into prominence in the late 1990s. In response, there was a report by the Government of Maharashtra (1998). Some of the reasons identified in the report are the crop failures of 1996–7 and 1997–8, poor returns from cultivation, indebtedness, and inability to service debt among others. One of the first scholarly works focusing on two districts of Western Vidarbha (Amravati and Yavatmal) covering suicides in the late 1990s was that by Mohanty (2001). It provides a historical backdrop to the agrarian changes and links the increase in land ownership among lower castes to the post-independence land ceiling laws. However, these small landowners faced greater losses during the above-mentioned two successive crop failures. Many could not recover costs and these had negative implication on their foodbasket, which in a cash crop–intensive cultivation was dependent on returns from cultivation. Size-class wise analysis indicates that crop loss and indebtedness were more important for small farmers whereas for medium and large farmers, family problems, old age and illness, and loss in business and other economic activities also assume importance. A further study in the three districts of Amravati, Wardha, and Yavatmal covering cases in 2002 was taken up by Mohanty and Shroff (2004). Comparing suicide cases with control households, it observes that loss of agricultural income that is linked with adverse weather, market imperfections, and consequently indebtedness along with other social pressures have pushed the farmers to distress. Using evidence from the above two studies, Mohanty (2005) analyses the suicides in a Durkheimian perspective and suggests that lower and middle caste smallholder peasants found themselves trapped between enhanced aspirations and the neoliberal reality of rising debt and declining income, whereas large and medium farmers belonging to the higher castes were faced by failures in business, trade, and politics. He opines that farmers’ suicides are an effect of individualization under (p.141) rapid economic growth where the rural producers find themselves estranged from the traditional agrarian communities. The cotton farmer has lost his competitiveness and profit incomes have declined to significantly negative levels (Mitra and Shroff, 2007). The increasing incidence of farmers’ suicides, Lott (2006) indicates, is also because of neglect of agriculture by the state where the people dependent on it seem to have lost their political voice and weight.

The rising suicides among farmers became the concern of the public and the subject matter of public interest litigation. The Bombay High Court directive led to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences coming up with a report (Dandekar et al. 2005) which identified repeated crop failure, inability to meet the increasing cost of input-intensive cultivation, and indebtedness as important factors leading to distress. The report pointed out a larger agrarian crisis and the need for strengthening various support structures among others. The Government of Maharashtra sought independent opinion from the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (Mishra 2006a); this will be elaborated in the next section on micro level analysis of farmers’ suicides, where suicide has been considered as symptomatic of the larger agrarian crisis. The Planning Commission constituted a fact-finding team, which reiterated the neglect of Vidarbha with the continuation of backlog in irrigation as well as other infrastructure and the larger agrarian crisis, particularly in cotton cultivation (GOI 2006).

Yet another report (Meeta & Rajivlochan 2006) identified two common factors, viz., one, a feeling of helplessness as farmers were not able to resolve problems and dilemmas, particularly because of lack of funds for various activities (such as health and daughter’s marriage) or for repaying loans, and second, the absence of any person, group, or institution to whom they could turn for advice (for agricultural operations, fund related or personal reasons). Such an interpretation does not take away the issues raised by Dandeker et al. (2005) as well as Mishra (2006a). They reiterate that the individual level factors operate in a larger socio-economic context, which includes among other things the failure of the state in agriculture, healthcare, and education. Further, many of the factors identified by them (health, marriage, and agrarian pressure) would be associated with indebtedness. In addition, Mishra (2006a), as will be seen below, has pointed out that (p.142) suicide is associated with multiple risk factors (indebtedness being only one of them, like suicides it is perhaps an important symptom of the larger socio-economic malaise) that can co-exist and aggravate each other. By investigating some of the households that were already surveyed in Mishra (2006a); Meeta and Rajivlochan (2006) identify additional risk factors, including greater loan burden (and also point out a discrepancy in caste name), and implicitly substantiate the proposition of multiple risks. An important observation by Meeta and Rajivlochan is ‘the absence of adequate implementing mechanism’ and the need to ensure that many of the existing measures work with greater efficiency.

The public policy concern has resulted in initiatives by the central and state governments. A few studies have highlighted farmers’ suicides and the plight of farming in some talukas of Nagpur district (Fadnavis et al. 2006) and Marathwada (Kurulkar 2006), as these regions have been exempted from the above-mentioned initiatives. A recent documentary (c. 2007) Haya Janmavar… in Marathi highlights the larger situation based on cases from Jalgaon district. There is also a Hindi movie, Summer 2007 (released in June 2008), where the poor socio-economic condition and farmers’ suicides in Maharashtra come to the fore when circumstances force some medical students to their rural services.

It is true that the high incidence of farmers’ suicides in Western Vidarbha is a matter of serious concern. The SMR for male farmers in Western Vidarbha during 2001–4 is 110, which is more than eight times the SMR of 14 for males in India. All other regions have SMR for male farmers lower than the state average (Figure 6.4). However, this is no reason to conclude that the situation is better elsewhere because in all regions SMR for male farmers is higher than SMR for male non-farmers. Besides, if one calculates SMR for male farmers across districts for 2001–4, then those with values greater than the state average are spread across. They include six Western Vidarbha districts of Akola (77), Amravati (144), Buldhana (191), Nagpur (86), Wardha (78), and Yavatmal (93) as also the districts of Aurangabad (74), Beed (64), Chandrapur (89), Hingoli (51), Jalgaon (89), Nanded (56), Prabhani (68), and Satara (53).10 The district of Washim in Western Vidarbha is not included because in the data provided, a large proportion of suicides are classified under the profession of (p.143) ‘others’. This is likely to be a misclassification because in a primarily agricultural district if they are not farmers (or cultivators), then they are likely to be agricultural labourers and that should be considered even more critical. Having indicated the larger concern, the focus of the current exercise including the micro level analysis in the next section, as indicated earlier, is on Western Vidarbha.

Agrarian Distress and Farmers' Suicides in Maharashtra                                                     1

Figure 6.4 Suicide Mortality Rate (SMR) for Farmers and Non-farmers by Sex across Regions of Maharashtra: 2001–4

Note: KO denotes Konkan, WM denotes Western Maharashtra, NM denotes Northern Maharashtra, MW denotes Marathwada, WV denotes Western Vidarbha, EV denotes Eastern Vidarbha, and MA denotes Maharashtra.

Source: For suicide, personal communication, CID, Government of Maharashtra; for population, Census of India.

Micro Level Analysis of Farmers’ Suicides

To understand the nature and characteristics of the farmers committing suicide and to unravel the factors that contribute to such an extreme step, a household survey was conducted in the Western Vidarbha (p.144) region. The villages were identified based on a list of farmers’ suicides for 2004 and a few cases for January 2005.11 Data from 111 suicide cases (one Amravati, 21 Wardha, 29 Washim, and 60 Yavatmal) and 106 non-suicide control households spread across 105 villages form the basis of our analysis. In our sample from suicide cases, 91 per cent were males, 55 per cent in the age group of 31–50 years, and 80 per cent were currently married. On educational status, 21 per cent were illiterate, 14 per cent were literate but below primary level, 26 per cent completed primary education but were below matriculation, and the rest were with higher education. On experience in farming, 24 per cent had less than five years, 18 per cent had about 6–10 years, and the rest 58 per cent had more than 10 years of experience.

The three castes with the most number of cases are Kunbi (31 per cent), Banjaras (16 per cent), and Baudh (9 per cent). Kunbis are the predominant peasant community in the selected districts and Banjaras have a substantial presence in Yavatmal and Karanja sub-division of Washim. The size-class of land shows that 14 per cent are marginal, 39 per cent are small, 21 per cent semi-medium, 15 per cent medium, 4 per cent are large, and 7 per cent have not given information on their land ownership.

Risk Factors

Suicide is the complex interplay of multiple factors. A number of risk factors can co-exist and one particular individual can come across all or none of the risk factors identified by us through the household survey. In our sample, the minimum number of risk factors is two and the maximum is nine. The most common thing was indebtedness (86 per cent). From all those indebted, 44 per cent were harassed for repayment of loan, and in 33 per cent of cases the creditor insisted on immediate repayment

Next in importance is fall in economic position (74 per cent). Indebtedness per se will not lead to a fall in the economic position, but if it reaches a stage that will lead to sale of assets then it can be associated with a fall in the economic position. Similarly, a fall in economic position can also lead to greater reliance on credit, and thereby, increasing the debt burden. In 55 per cent of the cases, it was observed that the individual concerned had not discussed his/her problem with other family members. He/she was shouldering (p.145) the entire burden that was troubling him and was not sharing the difficulties with others. An avenue for letting out one’s pent up feelings and frustration was closed.

Table 6.6 Risk Factors Identified with Deceased Individual

Risk factors



Was the deceased indebted?



Did his economic status deteriorate before the incident?



Did the deceased not share problems with other family members?



Was there a crop failure?



Was there a change in his social position before the incident?



Did the deceased have a daughter/sister of marriageable age?



Was there any suicide occurrence in the nearby villages recently?



Did the deceased have any addictions?



Was there a change in the deceased’s behaviour before the incident?



Did the deceased have disputes with neighbours or others?



Did the deceased have some health problem?



Did any death occur in the family recently before the incident?



Has there been any suicide previously in the family?



Are some other family members chronically ill/handicapped?



Average number of risk factors


Minimum number of risk factors


Maximum number of risk factors


Note: N indicates number of households. The risk factors are not mutually exclusive, and hence, will not add up to 100 per cent.

Source: Field Survey, Mishra (2006a).

Crop failure is mentioned in 40 per cent of the cases and most of these also mentioned about loss in the second or third sowing due to delay in rainfall. A few cases mentioned fire or theft. Crop loss can also happen due to excessive untimely rain, say, during the time (p.146) of harvest. Crop failure can lead to economic downfall and make it difficult to repay existing loans. This will also increase the need for additional credit. Crop failure leading to fall in economic position is quite straightforward, but the causal links can also be the other way round. A household faced with downfall in economic position or with greater debt burden could not take additional loans for investing in agriculture (say, during a pest attack) and this can lead to a reduction in yield or total crop failure.

Change in social status was identified in 36 per cent of the cases. This can be associated with a fall in economic position. Harassment by creditors or their agents due to non-payment of loans can also lead to social disgrace. Crop failure due to unsuccessful experimentation by a farmer who was recognized as a successful entrepreneur may find a change in his social status—people who earlier came to him for advice are now providing solace to him.

A socially important role of a brother/father is to get one’s sister/daughter married. Communities have norms in terms of age and expenditure.12 A farmer is largely dependent on a good return from his produce to fulfil this obligation. Thus, crop failure, greater credit burden, or a fall in his economic position can come in his way of fulfilling this obligation. Inability to conduct a sister’s/daughter’s marriage can be socially humiliating. It can also increase intra-household conflicts. To complete this social obligation, a farmer may also take loans, thinking that he can repay the amount after the harvest. Recent marriage of a sister/daughter or inability to get one’s sister/daughter married has been identified as a risk factor in 34 per cent of the cases. We have also taken note of the imitation effect.13 In some cases (28 per cent), in addition to crop failure, addiction to alcohol also served as a precipitous factor. Under conditions of stress, it is said, an intoxicated individual may indulge in an act of self-harm without being aware of the consequences.

Change in the individual’s behaviour was identified in 26 per cent of the cases. These are symptoms and indicate that the individual needs some psychosocial help. Dispute with neighbours/others in the villages was identified in 24 per cent of the cases. This could be related with property disputes or an altercation leading to a social humiliation. Or, it could be a part of his changed behaviour, indicating that he needs some help.

(p.147) Personal health problem of the deceased was identified in 21 per cent of the cases. From these, 26 per cent (6 cases) were those who were perceived by others with some mental health problem. Illness gets aggravated due to poor economic condition because it makes care seeking difficult. Similarly, ill health can lead to a loan to meet medical expenses and also reduce the ability to work, thus aggravating the economic condition. If the sick person is some other member (3 per cent of the cases), then the breadwinner has the added frustration and helplessness in not being able to provide appropriate care for an ailing parent/spouse/child. Death of another member in the family before the incident was identified in 10 per cent of the cases. The death of the near ones could have been because of not receiving appropriate health care. Inability to provide care is largely because of the poor economic condition rooted in the larger agrarian crisis. Suicide history in the family could be identified in six per cent of the cases. This could be indicative of a genetic factor that increases the chances of suicide as there is setback to agriculture in such households.

In 79 per cent of the cases, suicide was committed by consuming insecticides. These proportions are higher than that indicated for the overall population. This is so because of its easy accessibility in farming households (particularly those cultivating cotton). A hospital that can treat emergencies like poisoning is on an average more than 20 kilometres away. This means that the time taken to reach a treatment centre in these hilly regions can easily be more than an hour. This delay can prove fatal. Restriction on availability and toxic content of pesticides and access to early treatment are important policy parameters. Important policy lessons can be taken from Sri Lanka’s experience (Gunnell & Eddleston 2003).14

Analysis of a few case studies does indicate that they are enterprising farmers who wanted to contribute to the growth process (Case A and B in Box 5.1 in Chapter 5 of this volume) or wanted to be part of the larger economic activity through his children (Case C in Box 5.1, Chapter 5 of this volume). All the three case studies do reiterate that the risk factors are not mutually exclusive. They can co-exist, they can be interrelated, they can feed into each other, and they can also aggravate each other.

(p.148) Comparing Suicide Cases with Controls

Comparing suicide cases with control households may help to evaluate the extent of debt burden (Table 6.7). It will also help to identify some characteristics that differentiate the two groups of households. Comparing suicide cases with control households shows that the average outstanding debt is higher in the former by 3.5 times and after normalizing for family size or land size, it is higher by three times, and all these differences are statistically significant. As compared with control households, the suicide cases have, on an average, a lower proportion that owns bullocks (a productive and liquid asset), a lower value of produce, and a relatively greater family size (particularly female members). The relevance of bullocks to the agrarian economy as a productive asset in Indian agriculture is well known (Vaidyanthan 1988, among others). Bullocks are the major means of ploughing, an act that depends on rain and has to be done within a short span before sowing. Hiring of bullocks or tractors will increase costs and the latter may not be as effective in these dryland rain-dependent conditions. Bullocks are also used as a liquid asset that is sold under distress conditions. Thus, absence of bullocks may be a reflection of hardship that the household has been facing. The (p.149) suicide case households also had lower ownership of other livestock, agricultural implements, consumer durables, and lower access to basic amenities. These get further compounded with a crop failure or poor yield, leading to lower value of produce. Higher family size would mean that for the same absolute income, per capita expenditure would be reduced. If son-preference would mean that those going for a third child are those with two daughters, then households with more members are also those with more female members. The social obligation and associated expenditure of such households would indicate a higher burden.

Table 6.7 Comparing Suicide Cases with Controls

Average characteristic

Suicide cases






Debt per household*





Debt per household per person*





Debt per household per acre*





Own bullocks (%)*





Value of produce (Rs '000)





Value of produce per acre (Rs '000)





Family size#





Note: N=number of households. *Difference between suicide cases and controls is statistically significant at 95 per cent confidence interval (CI). # Includes the deceased individual in suicide cases.

Source: Field Survey, Mishra (2006a).

In further comparison of the debt scenario, we restrict ourselves to 87 pairs of suicide cases and control households from which we have credit related information. There are 80 suicide cases with outstanding debt from 138 transactions and 49 control households with outstanding debt from 64 transactions. The average number of transactions in suicide cases (1.7) is higher than that in the households control (1.3). Analysis of source of loan indicates greater reliance of (p.150) co-operatives in the formal sector and moneylenders in the informal sector (Table 6.8). The reliance on moneylenders and friends/relatives is higher for suicide cases (54 per cent of 138 transactions) than controls (36 per cent of 64 transactions). A very high amount is indicated for suicide case under commercial bank because of a large farmer (owning 28 acres) having an outstanding loan of Rs 2.5 lakh, which was incurred for marriage in the family (in fact, the individual had taken a loan of Rs 5 lakh and had already returned Rs 2.5 lakh). After excluding this extreme case, the distribution of total outstanding debt indicates that 44 per cent is from cooperative banks, 36 per cent from moneylenders, and 12 per cent from relatives/friends. In control households, after excluding a loan transaction with outstanding debt of Rs 98,200 from a rural bank, the distribution of total outstanding debt indicates that 38 per cent is from cooperative bank, 32 per cent is from moneylenders, 16 per cent from other unspecified informal sources, and 15 per cent from self-help groups.

Table 6.8 Average Outstanding Debt per Transaction across Source


Suicide cases






Commercial bank





Rural bank





Cooperative bank













Self-help group




















Not available








Note: N indicates the number of transactions with outstanding debt. The transactions are from 80 suicide cases and 49 non-suicide controls.

Source: Field Survey, Mishra (2006a).

The purpose of credit for outstanding debt by source is given in Table 6.9. After excluding the transactions where purpose is not available, 70 per cent of transactions in the suicide cases and 89 per cent of transactions in the non-suicide controls are for agricultural purposes only. This proportion further increases if we take into consideration transactions from formal sources only (88 per cent in suicide cases and 96 per cent in non-suicide controls). Next to agriculture is marriage, which is mostly from informal sources. For each specific purpose the number of transactions with outstanding debt and the average outstanding debt per transaction is higher in suicide case households when compared with non-suicide control households. The average amount of outstanding debt per transaction for agricultural purposes is greater than Rs 10,000. For marriage, after excluding an extreme observation with outstanding debt of Rs 250,000 from a commercial bank by a suicide case household, the gap is greater than Rs 6000. There is an instance in suicide case households where loan for health expenditure was to the tune of Rs 1.5 lakh. From total outstanding debt (including those where purpose is not available), agriculture being the sole purpose accounts for 64 per cent of the outstanding debt in suicide case households and 79 per cent in control households. Marriage accounts for 19 per cent of the total outstanding debt in suicide cases (reduces to 13 per cent if we exclude the extreme case of (p.151) (p.152) Rs 2.5 lakh outstanding debt) and 10 per cent of the total outstanding debt in controls.

Table 6.9 Average Outstanding Debt per Transaction by Source across Purpose of Loan


Suicide cases
































































Note: N indicates number of transactions. NA indicates not available.

Source: Field Survey, Mishra (2006a).

The proportion of outstanding debt that is more than one year old (incurred in 2004 or earlier) is 69 per cent in suicide cases and 59 per cent in controls. Overall, 53 per cent of the outstanding debt in suicide cases and 52 per cent of outstanding debt in controls are from formal sources, but for 2004, the most recent year, only 30 per cent of the outstanding debt in suicide cases is from formal sources. In fact, the number of transactions with outstanding debt in suicide cases has been increasing over the years. In 2005, all the transactions reported (for before the start of the agricultural season, as the survey was conducted during March/April 2005) are from informal sources. In suicide cases, reliance on informal sources seems to have increased in recent years.

A statistical exercise is done to compare case-control households. Households’ suicide status is a binary dependent variable, Y; 1=case and 0=control. The independent variables, Xi’s, are outstanding debt in rupees, a yes/no binary variable on ownership of bullocks, family size, value of produce in rupees, and value of produce per acre of land owned in rupees. Using these, we estimate a step-wise logistic regression,15

ln [p/(1-p)]=α + βiXi + u; i=1,…,5.

where ln is natural logarithm, p is probability of obtaining a suicide case household, ln[p/(1 –p)] is the log odds ratio of a suicide case household, α is a coefficient on the constant term, βi’s are the coefficients of the five independent variables, Xi’s, and u is error term.

While discussing results, instead of coefficients, odds ratio, eβi, are given because the interpretation is more intuitive—for a unit increase in the independent variable there would be a corresponding change in the odds ratio (probability of a suicide case/probability of a control).

The result for complete case-control analysis of the 68 pairs of observation is as follows. It gives outstanding debt and absence of bullocks as statistically significant variables that differentiate suicide cases from non-suicide control households (Table 6.10). It suggests that if outstanding debt increases by Rs 1000, then the odds that the household is one with a suicide victim increases by 6 per cent and if (p.153) the household owns bullocks, then the odds that it is a household with a suicide victim decreases by 65 per cent.

If we restrict the case-control pairs to similar land size (the land size of control household in the village not differing from the suicide case household by more than 25 per cent (i.e., if the suicide case household has 4 acres then the control household can have land size in the range of 3–5 acres), then we estimate for 55 pairs of observations. It shows that only outstanding debt per acre of land is a statistically significant variable that differentiates suicide cases from controls. It indicates that (p.154) if outstanding debt per acre of land owned increased by Rs 1000, then the odds that the household is one with a suicide victim increases by 33 per cent.

Table 6.10 Results (Odds Ratio) of Step-wise Logistic Regression Analysis

Complete case-control analysis

Similar land size

Same sub-caste

Similar land size and same sub-caste










Own bullocks










Debt per acre




Family size




Log likelihood





LR Chi square





Probably 〉Chi square





Pseudo R square





Note: Round brackets give standard error, square brackets give probability 〉 |z|. The variables are indicated in the order in which they were selected in the step-wise logistic regression.

Source: Field Survey, Mishra (2006a).

If we restrict to the case-control pairs to the same sub-caste, then we have 35 pairs of observations. Our estimation indicates that ownership of bullocks and family size are statistically significant variables that differentiate suicide cases from controls. It suggests that if the household owns bullocks, then the odds that it is a household with a suicide victim decreases by 79 per cent and if the family size increases by one member, then the odds that the household is one with a suicide victim increases by 35 per cent. When we restrict for both land size owned and same sub-caste, then ownership of bullocks turns out to be a significant variable that differentiates the suicide cases from controls. Under other restrictions, even value of produce also turns out to be statistically significant.

Public Policy Initiatives

To mitigate the distress of farmers, two packages, one by the Government of Maharashtra through its Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavlamban Mission, and the other by the Government of India through the Prime Minister’s special rehabilitation measures are being implemented in six of the seven Western Vidarbha districts.16 The Prime Minister’s package includes credit and non-credit components. The credit component involves waiver of interest and rescheduling of overdue loans along with one-year moratorium and provision for fresh credit. The non-credit component aims at reviving the livelihood base of the distressed farmers through programmes of irrigation, watershed development, strengthening of extension service, provision for supply of quality seeds, agricultural diversification towards horticulture and linking its production with agro-and-fruit processing, and the development of allied and non-farm activities. There is provision for committees at the Central and state level for coordination and supervision and creation of appropriate institutional structures at the community level to ensure effective delivery of the package and optimum utilization of the resources in a time-bound manner.

The package is comprehensive in terms of coverage and problems addressed. But, it suffers from some deficiencies in design and implementation (GOI 2007). These can be classified into three (p.155) categories. First, the design of some of the schemes is not based on the felt needs of households. The state government also conducted a house-to-house census of 17.6 lakh farmer households in the six districts, and identified distress on account of crop failure (more than two-thirds, 69.5 per cent), indebtedness (more than half, 50.4 per cent), social obligations like marriage (17.2 per cent), and chronic disease in the family (5.2 per cent), among others. For organic farming, there was demand from 7.5 lakh households, but only about 40,000 could be included as part of 860 organic farming groups. About 10.6 per cent of the households were in favour of community marriage, but interventions by the government facilitating this could meet less than 5 per cent of the demand (6783 couples were married at a cost of Rs 7.46 crore). More than 9 lakh households were identified with distress due to chronic disease but till 10 January 2007 only 2604 families received Rs 2.6 crore as part of expenditure under ex-gratia assistance from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund at the disposal of the district collectors (GOM 2007).

Second, the measures are universal in nature, and region or household level specificity is missing. For instance, some schemes, like providing 500 check dams per year in each district, bringing 15,000 hectares under watershed for each district, and Rs 50 lakh ex-gratia per district, are indifferent to the differences in area, population, or agro-climatic conditions. As a result, Yavatmal and Washim get the same allocation though the former is double the size of the latter in terms of area as well as population.

Third, absence of proper institutional arrangements creates problems in implementation and monitoring. There is no information on the impact of the scheme on the people. Monitoring of physical targets and mid-term evaluations are urgently required. Such studies may consider the impact of various schemes on raising incomes, from farm and non-farm sources, and on agricultural productivity, the efficacy of the credit-related interventions, and more importantly to suggest whether the interventions are moving in the right direction with regard to ameliorating distress or there is need for mid-course correction.

The Government of Maharashtra provides for a compensation of Rs 1 lakh if the cause of suicide is because of agricultural crisis. The bereavement is linked to the crisis based on: (i) the deceased being a (p.156) farmer and its proof lied in the ownership of land; (ii) the deceased being indebted when the incident took place; and (iii) indebtedness is the cause of suicide. Checking legal ownership of land should be considered at the family level, including extended family when land ownership continues to be in a single name, but there are no guidelines to consider the cases of tenants. On indebtedness, it is easy to get proof from formal sources, but difficult to get the details from informal sources; particularly, after the state initiated legal measures against moneylenders, which have driven informal credit underground. After the announcement of the Prime Minister’s package with rescheduling of loan and a one-year moratorium, indebtedness from formal sources as a cause for suicide is being dismissed. Thus, it has become much more difficult to conclude that indebtedness happens to be the cause of suicide. It is true that the Government has reviewed old cases and more bereaved families have been made eligible for receiving compensation, but then there is no provision for any follow-up assessment of these households. For more recent cases (mid-2006 to July 2008), the authorities have continued to use the barometer of minimizing inclusion error (not include those who do not deserve) and as a result exclusion error (excluding genuine cases) seems to have increased. From a welfare perspective, any compensation criteria should minimize both the errors, but exclusion error should be considered more serious.

To prove the efficacy of the newly introduced public policy interventions, it is unfortunate that the number of eligible cases of suicides is being used as a measuring rod. Such an approach takes away the discussion from the larger agrarian crisis and limits it to a symptom. The government’s own house-to-house census speaks of the magnitude of the distress. The situation is much more serious than it seems and requires efforts that reach large masses at lesser costs.

Concluding Remarks

An increasing concern in recent years is that the relatively near double-digit growth in the economy has not been inclusive. There is incontrovertible evidence that the rural areas, and in that especially the agricultural sector, has been lagging behind. In the race for growth, Maharashtra with one of the highest per capita income has also benefited, but such growth is concentrated in four urban districts of Greater Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune, and Thane that account for more (p.157) than half of the state’s income. There is hardly any impact of the growth on other regions. Sector-wise, the share of agriculture is shrinking, but a large proportion of the population continues to be dependent on agriculture. Returns from cultivation are on the wane and particularly hard hit have been the cotton farmers of Western Vidarbha. The liberalization of trade and reduced tariffs has particularly gone against cotton farmers. The domestic price support measures too failed to help. Some of the reasons are: high subsidies by the USA leading to price distortions, low import tariffs in India, and failure of the MCPS in Maharashtra. Withdrawal of the state is evident from declining public investment in agriculture, poor government agricultural extension services, and diminishing role of formal institutions in rural financial markets. The farmer now depends on the input dealer for advice leading to supplier-induced demand and on informal sources of credit with greater interest burden. To add to this, 2004 was a rain-deficient year that affected yield in at least some pockets of the selected districts, but overall macro supply scenario being good, the market prices were low. The farmer was exposed to yield and price shocks simultaneously. In short, the systemic risk factors indicate a larger socio-economic and agrarian crisis. A symptom of this is the high incidence of farmers’ suicides.

With the macro-level policies and support systems turning unfavourable to agriculture, any one of many of the following micro-level factors can trigger farmers to resort to the extreme step of ending their own life. These micro-level factors that cause vulnerability includes indebtedness, deterioration of economic status, conflict with other members in the family, crop failure, decline in social position, burden of daughter’s/sister’s marriage, suicide in a nearby village, addictions, change in the behaviour of the deceased, dispute with neighbours/others, health problem, a recent death in the family, history of suicide in family, and other family members being ill. Comparing suicide cases with non-suicide controls, one observes that on an average the former has higher outstanding debt, relatively lower ownership of assets particularly, bullocks a productive and liquid asset, and lower access to basic amenities, a higher family size with more dependants, and a lower value of produce. These indicate that the idiosyncratic factors do not occur in isolation—they are exacerbated because of the larger socio-economic and agrarian crisis.

(p.158) The policy implication from the above discussion calls for an emphasis on the larger agrarian crisis. Availability of affordable credit requires revitalization of the rural credit market. Risk management should address yield, price, credit, income, or weather-related uncertainties among others. Improving water availability will facilitate diversification of cropping pattern, but this should go hand in hand with policies that increase non-farm employment. Improving agricultural extension that addresses deskilling because of technological changes and also facilitates appropriate technical knowhow for alternative forms of cultivation such as organic farming will be of help. There is a strong case for regulating private credit and input markets. Organizing farmers through a federation of self-help groups (SHGs) with government, banks, and other stakeholders playing a pro-active role would be welcome. Interventions should go beyond agriculture to the social sector with an emphasis on education and public health. Besides public institutions, there is need for a greater involvement from the civil society. (p.159) (p.160)



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(1.) An earlier version was presented in a seminar on ‘Agrarian Crisis in India’ held at Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR) on 30 December 2006. Comments from participants as well as referees and discussants, S. Galab, R. M. Mohan Rao, B. B. Mohanty, and K. Vatsa, and discussions with R. Radhakrishna, V. M. Rao, and D. Narasimha Reddy helped in revising the chapter. However, none of them are responsible for the views expressed in this.

(2.) Western Vidarbha is the Inland Eastern region of the state as per the National Sample Survey (NSS) classification. It includes all the districts of Amravati administrative division (Akola, Amravati, Buldhana, Washim, and Yavatmal) and two districts from Nagpur administrative division (Nagpur and Wardha).

(3.) From an analytical perspective, suicide is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon. The risk factors can either be in the neurobiological (Mann 2002) or socio-economic (Durkheim 2002) domain. The former are internal to the individual and can be considered as predisposing factors whereas the latter are external in nature and identified as the precipitating factors.

(4.) For a recent discussion on growth and poverty in Maharashtra, see Mishra and Panda (2006). For Maharashtra’s agricultural development till the early 1990s see Sawant et al. (1999), and for a recent discussion see Kalamkar (2003). For a discussion of some Western Vidarbha districts, see Kulkarni and Deshpande (2006).

(5.) This is inferred from the primary sector growth rates, which is largely agriculture and allied activities, across administrative divisions calculated for the period 1993–94 to 2002–3 by Shaban (2006).

(6.) The NSS Inland Eastern region of the state includes all the districts of Amravati division and also Nagpur and Wardha districts from Nagpur division; the remaining districts from Nagpur division constitute the NSS Eastern region. Both these regions/divisions together are referred to as Vidarbha. For our purpose, as indicated earlier, we refer to Inland Eastern region as Western Vidarbha and Eastern region as Eastern Vidarbha. The second deviation is that the NSS Inland Western region includes all the districts of Pune division and also Ahmednagar district from Nashik division; the remaining districts from Nashik division constitute the NSS Inland Northern region. For our purpose we refer to Inland Western as Western Maharashtra and Inland Northern as Northern Maharashtra. Konkan and Marathwada divisions are Coastal and Inland Central regions respectively.

(7.) Costs include actual expenses in cash and kind incurred in production by the owner, rent paid for leased in land and imputed value of family labour, interest on value of owned capital assets (excluding land), and rental value of owned land (net of land revenue).

(8.) Till recently, this gap was somewhat met through an additional advance price of Rs 500 per quintal paid under the monopoly procurement scheme. This, coupled with various rent-seeking activities, led to the scheme making a cumulative loss of more than Rs 5000 crore, leading to its discontinuation from 2005–6.

(9.) These are estimated by the Cotton Advisory Board and differ from the estimates used by the Government of Maharashtra to calculate the value of output in agriculture.

(10.) The high incidence of farmer’ suicides is indicative of a larger crisis. However, this does not mean that the absence or lower incidence of suicides can be identified with no crisis.

(11.) Occurrence of suicide, a rare event, was the basis for selecting a village. In the village, we surveyed the suicide case household and a control household, conducted a FGD, and also collected some village level information before moving over to another village. The distance from one village to another, more often than not, was 20–30 kilometres or more.

(12.) In the selected region, instances of females getting married before 18 years of age are prevalent. Marriage expenditure would depend on the economic position of the household and FGDs indicate it to be around Rs 20,000–Rs 40,000 only for marginal/small farmers. With such a small amount, it is not the social custom of marriage but the poor returns from agriculture that becomes relevant.

(13.) Suicide contagion also increases the responsibility of media and guidelines by the World Health Organization on suicide reportage would be of help (Mishra 2006b). This is not to deny the important role that media played in highlighting the issue of farmers’ suicides. For a media perspective on Vidarbha, see Deshpande (2006) among others. For a discussion on the representation of farmers’ suicides in the Indian media, see Vij (2006).

(14.) A recent study suggests that pesticides are not only agents for suicide, but are also part of the causal pathway (London et al. 2005). Exposure to organophosphorous pesticides can affect the central nervous system, which in turn can lead to depression and subsequently suicide. For a discussion on poisoning cases in Yavatmal Medical College, see Bhatkule (2006).

(15.) In the step-wise procedure, a variable is added if it increases chi-square significance by 0.05 and it is dropped if it increases chi-square significance by 0.1.

(16.) The predominantly urban district of Nagpur has been kept out of the packages.