When It Rains, It Pours; But Maha Farmers Aren’t Giving Up

As the state administration tries to decide on a plan of action while being under the President’s Rule, farmer collectives set to begin protests for compensation.
maharashtra farmers
Image Courtesy: Hindustan Times

What’s the damage?

After the wettest June-September monsoon season in 25 years, cyclonic disturbances in the Arabian Sea led to post-monsoon rain as it came towards the state of Maharashtra and withdrew towards the end of October. Most parts of Maharashtra received rainfall over 100%, and the State cumulatively recorded more than 112% precipitation.

Reuters reported that the excessive rain during monsoon ruined summer-sown (kharif) crops such as soybean, cotton, maize, jowar, bajra, and rice from flood damage, the heavy rains in October and November have brought more misery to India’s farmers by delaying winter-sowing of (rabi) crops like wheat, chickpeas, vegetables.

Maharashtra state administration pegged the damage caused by the unseasonal rain to standing crop covering 88.74 lakh hectares of farmland across the state. The Indian Express reported that from a look into official panchnamas to assess the extent of the damage nearing completion, sources stated that the untimely rain has inflicted losses on nearly 1 crore farmers. The heavy downpours also elevated prices of produce such onions, soyabean, maize and tomatoes and lifted food inflation to 7.89% in October from a year earlier.

The state has seen a large number of farmers commit suicide owing to the losses they experienced due to unseasonal changes.

State (in)action

Prior to following the Centre’s norms for calculating crop loss, the former Fadnavis government pegged the overall crop loss at 2,088 crore. But the Centre is yet to announce the compensation from its side. Later, a cabinet sub-committee under Fadnavis had agreed to set aside 10,000 crore for relief measures.

The Indian Express further reports that, while the Centre pays 6,800 per hectare for rainfed crops, parties have been demanding 25,000 per hectare for their losses. Similarly, even as the Centre’s relief norms approve 18,000 per hectare for irrigated area, the political parties have been demanding higher compensation.

Presently, the government is looking at a payout of 8,000 per hectare for all rain-damaged crop land in Maharashtra.

The Buck Stops At the Governor?

Since the state is under the President’s Rule, the decision as to the quantum of financial relief is in the hands of the Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari. As most parties have demanded that the farmers be compensated at a rate above what would be granted under the Centre’s norms, it is likely that the Governor will approach the Parliament to sanction supplementary grants to meet demanded relief amount.

The Indian Express reported a source admitting that the official panchnamas to assess the damage have been slow, and that the process is likely to be completed in the coming few days. In order to ensure swift clearance of administrative files, concerned departments have will be prioritising files regarding court matters, financial liabilities, and legislative matters. A proposal to transfer quasi-judicial powers of ministers to secretaries until government formation is under active consideration, it reported.

Demand to declare ‘wet drought’

Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sabha and parties such as Shiv Sena have demanded that a “wet drought” be declared in the state.

On November 14, 2019, Bacchu Kadu, Maharashtra’s MLA from Achalpur, Amravati led a protest march towards Raj Bhavan over farmers’ demands to declare Maharashtra as drought-hit. He, along with hundreds of workers of the Prahar Janshakti Party (PJP), was detained by the police at Nariman Point, while protesting over their demand. Mr Kadu said that they wanted Mr. Koshyari to proclaim financial assistance and a loan waiver for farmers.

Earlier, Parivartan Vikas Aghadi (PVA) and Shetkari Sanghatana had demanded that farmers in Yavatmal district be given compensation under the crop insurance scheme and Natural Calamity Act.

Ajit Navale, State Secretary of the Kisan Sabha, noted that crop-cutting experiments were conducted in order to assess damage for crop insurance before the unseasonal rains and this may result in affected farmers being excluded from insurance payouts.

In a statement to our team, Mr. Navale stated that the financial relief of 8000 per hectare presently being proposed by the Government would come down to about 80 per gunta (1089 square feet) of land. Such a measly amount won’t even cover the costs of removing the damaged crops and rank vegetation out of the affected land, he noted.

The Sabha has demanded a minimum of 25,000 per acre as relief for the rain-damaged crop land. Mr. Navale stated that the Kisan Sabha has planned to protest before the Commissionerate of Agriculture, Pune tomorrow, November 19 along with multiple, simultaneous tehsil-level protests all over Maharashtra on November 25.



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