With Maharashtra assembly polls only 10 days away, opposition parties are questioning the policies of the erstwhile Congress-NCP Government. In one such ad that highlights farmer suicides and low irrigation capacity in the state, the BJP has accused the government of causing deaths/suicides of over 50,000 farmers and “pocketing” Rs 70,000 crore in the name of irrigation projects.
While the BJP has the number of dead farmers right – marginally fewer than actually recorded – it has vastly exaggerated the money budgeted for irrigation by more than 70%, IndiaSpend research revealed.
Maharashtra had the maximum number of farm suicides across the country in 2013, according to data released by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), attached to the Ministry of Home Affairs. Nearly 19% incidents of suicides in the state were among self-employed agricultural workers in 2013.
Maharashtra has had a long history of farmer suicides over two decades.
Since the BJP ad is not clear about the timeline of the suicides, we checked the entire records of available data on farmer suicides. NCRB has been reporting crime and suicides data since 1995 in India. Since 1999, when the Congress-NCP took charge, 50,937 farmer suicides have been recorded in Maharashtra.
The number was at its peak between 2004, a drought year, which led to a cascade of withered crops and death until 2008. Experts like P Sainath have also raised concerns over high rates of farmer suicides in the state.
The BJP campaign has also hinted at poor irrigation development projects in Maharashtra as a major reason for suicides. The ad claims the Congress-NCP spent Rs 70,000 crore on irrigation projects. We found that the actual figure, at Rs 20,312 crore, is 70.9% lower over the government’s last two terms.
IndiaSpend had earlier done a state-wise comparative evaluation of area under irrigation. And we found that while states like Punjab and Haryana had 98% and 87%, respectively, of agriculture area under irrigation, Maharashtra had only about 17.9% of its farm area under irrigation.
Irrigation has not developed much since the mid-1990s in Maharashtra. With the opposition parties attributing low poor irrigation facilities to high farmer suicide rates, it is clear that this must be the top priority for any Government that comes to power in Maharashtra.