The government has no data on farmer suicides in the last three years, the agriculture minister has said in parliament at a time a farm crisis over debts and poor crop prices has hit several states.
Union Agriculture Minister Radhamohan Singh told parliament on Tuesday that the National Crime Records Bureau, which collects such data, has not published figures of farmer suicides since 2016.
The minister was responding to a question by Trinamool Congress leader Dinesh Trivedi, who had asked details about the number of farmers who had committed suicide since 2016 and whether the government planned to rehabilitate their families.
"The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) under the Ministry of Home Affairs compiles and disseminates information on suicides... These reports on suicides are available up to 2015 on its website. The reports for the year 2016 onwards have not been published yet," the minister said in a written reply that detailed other steps taken by the government in a country where 70 per cent of the population relies on agriculture.
Top agriculture ministry sources said data on farmer suicides is sent by state governments to the crime records bureau, which then collates the inputs and publishes it.
"Such data is published only till 2015, so the agriculture ministry can only go by this data," said sources, adding that the national crime records bureau functions under the home ministry.
Data for each year is published the following year in a report titled "Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India".
In 2015, the report reveals, over 8,000 farmers committed suicide. Maharashtra had the highest number (3030), followed by Telangana (1358) and Karnataka (1197). Over 4500 agricultural labourers committed suicide. That year, the report began publishing reasons for farm suicides. Most suicides were because of debts and bankruptcy.
Since then, there have been several agitations by farmers - last year, five farmers were killed in police firing during a protest in Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur - but no official data on suicides. This was flagged recently by journalist P Sainath, who participated in a farmers' march and protest in Delhi last month.
In 2014, the crime records bureau reported 5,650 farmer suicides. That year, the bureau started separating data for farmers and agricultural labourers, which raised questions.
Reports quote the National Crime Records Bureau as saying that the data is under scrutiny and the report for 2016 is likely to be published later.