A West Bengal district, Paschim Midnapore, alone reported 122 farm-related suicides officially last year, according to data revealed by the state government in response to an RTI query. However, the same year, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data stated that West Bengal reported “zero suicides of farmers/cultivators as well as agricultural labourers”.
Information provided by the Bengal government to the same RTI application also reveals that Paschim Midnapore has already officially recorded 34 farmers’ suicides this year.
The discrepancy comes in the wake of the Mamata Banerjee government’s consistent claims of developments in the state agriculture sector leading to zero suicides of farmers over the last decade or so.
When confronted with this data, Bengal agriculture minister Sovandeb Chattopadhyay rubbished the data as “false and malicious”.
The information on farm suicides was provided by the State Public Information Officer & Deputy Superintendent of Police (D&T), Paschim Medinipur, after collecting data from 23 police stations across the district. This was in response to a query made by socio-legal researcher and RTI activist Biswanath Goswami on August 27.
The state’s response also shows that as many as 63 farmers’ suicides were reported from the Ghatal police station area alone in 2021. The corresponding figure for 2022 for the same police station currently stands at 13.
The figures reveal that 14 and 10 suicides were reported from Goaltore and Anandapur police station areas last year while the corresponding figures in the current year stand at 5 and 2.
According to the NCRB findings, which recently came out with two reports: ‘Crime in India, 2021’ and ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides (ADSI) in India, 2021’, West Bengal recorded 13,500 suicides last year, which is the fourth highest in the country. However, the number of deaths due to suicides by farmers or people engaged in agricultural activities has been declared zero.
The reports also highlighted that the rate of suicides in West Bengal is 13.7, which is high among other bigger states.
Goswami has now written to the ADG, West Bengal State Crime Records Bureau, seeking permission to physically inspect all the information, which was made available to him by the District Crime Records Bureau (DCRB), City Crime Record Bureau (CCRB), DIB and state Intelligence Bureau regarding farmers’ suicides and other crimes in the state for compilation and preparation of crime statistics in West Bengal for 2021-2022.
“On the face of it, this seems to be a classic case of data manipulation, a standard practice in state administration which it euphemistically calls data ‘rationalisation’. So my next step would be to physically scrutinize the SCRB data which was supplied to the NCRB. I will inspect the crime statistics at the level of each PS, DCRB and CCRB on this matter to find out whether there have data manipulation and suppression,” RTI activist Goswami told News18.
“I also have official data from the state which confirms there have been at least two farmers’ suicides under the purview of the Islampur police district in Uttar Dinajpur district, one each in 2021 and 2022,” he added.
But how is it that the official picture on farmers’ suicides sent by the SCRB to its national counterpart is diametrically opposite to the state’s response to an RTI application on the same issue?
“This also seems to be a classic case of a slippage from the state administration through cracks in the system. I will not be surprised if the police and administrative bosses of the district concerned are hauled up and penalised for this leak once this report is published,” Goswami said.
The state government had an altogether different story to tell.
“I assumed office in 2021 and since then only one incident of farmer suicide was brought to my knowledge. Upon further inquiry, we ascertained that the suicide was on account of some family dispute and had nothing to do with agriculture issues. There have been no reports of farm-related suicides from any part of the state during my tenure,” asserted Bengal agriculture minister Chattopadhyay.
“Ever since the Trinamool Congress government came to power in 2011, not one incident of farmer’s suicide reached my ears,” he added.
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