Suicides by farmers of Maharashtra crossed the 4000 mark in 2007, for the third time in four years, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). As many as 4238 farmers of the State took their lives that year, the latest for which data are available, accounting for a fourth of 16,632 farmer suicides in the country.

The national total represents a slight fall, from 17,060 in 2006, but the broad trends of the past decade seem unshaken. Farmer suicides in the country since 1997 now total 1,82,936.

Worst-affected states

Yet again, the five worst-affected States - Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh - account for two-thirds of all such suicides in the country. Together, they saw 11,026 in 2007. Of these, Maharashtra alone accounted for over 38 per cent. Of the "Big five," Andhra Pradesh saw a decline of 810 suicides against its 2006 total. Karnataka saw a rise of 415 over the same period. Madhya Pradesh (1,375) posted a decline of 112. But Chhattisgarh's 1593 means an increase of 110 over 2006.

Maharashtra registered a fall of 215. But Karnataka (2,135) and Andhra Pradesh (1,797) - the next two worst-hit States - together account for less than Maharashtra's 4000-plus. A one-year dip of 221 occurred in 2005 in the western State only to be followed by an all-time high of 4,453 suicides in 2006. This trend shows no turn-around and remains dismal.

Causes untouched

Maharashtra's 2007 figure of 4238 follows one-and-half years of farm 'relief packages' worth around Rs.5000 crores and a prime ministerial visit in mid-2006 to the distressed Vidharbha region. Between 2005 and 2007, the State also saw a plethora of official reports, studies, and commissions of inquiry aimed at tackling the problem.

However, the 12,617 farmer suicides of these years are the worst-ever for any three-year period since the State began recording such data in 1995. Indeed, farmer suicides in Maharashtra since that year crossed the 40,000-mark. The structural causes of that crisis seem untouched.

Nationally, farmer suicides during 2002-2007 were worse than for the years 1997-2001. NCRB data are available for the whole country for 1997-2007. In the five years till 2001, there were 15,747 farmer suicides a year on average. For the six years from 2002, that annual average has risen to 17,366. The increase is distressingly higher in the main crisis States.