In Maharashtra, it was first the uncertainty of the weather. Then followed the hailstorm and now it is the heavy rains that have spoiled the calculations of the state’s farmers. They had just sowed the Kharif crop when heavy rains hit and destroyed their hard work in a matter of a few days. To the extent that they may have to sow all over again, incurring major losses.
This cruel play of alternating drought and floods has been the norm in Maharashtra over the last several years.
For several years, the western parts of the state like Vidarbha and Marath have been in the grip of floods. But, the scene is just the opposite this monsoon, after a year-long drought, this time there are heavy rains and floods. The heavy rains have submerged about 8.5 lakh hectares of Kharif crop and washed away 4000 hectares of agricultural land.
However, this is only a preliminary estimate of the damage done in the agriculture sector. The comprehensive damage assessment is still going on at the administration level and the amount of damage due to heavy rains is expected to increase further. But, assistance for farmers has not yet been announced by the state and central government.
In Vidarbha alone, agricultural land and crops have been damaged on 5 lakh 70 thousand hectares while 182 out of 450 development blocks of Marathwada have suffered heavy losses. The extent of damage due to rain has reached 3 lakh 78 thousand hectares.
But, if water continues to stagnate in the fields, the farmers will have to bear more losses in the days ahead. In such a situation, if farmers have to sow again, the cost of production will increase. An increase in the cost of production due to the irregularities of monsoon as well as rising inflation could deepen the agricultural crisis.
The primary responsibility of disaster management, including providing relief to those directly affected, lies with the state government. The state government provides relief from the State Disaster Relief Fund in case of natural calamities like heavy rains as per the approved provisions of the Central Government. During severe natural calamities, additional financial assistance is also provided from the Central Government Relief Fund as per the prescribed procedure.
The government’s decision to release Rs 2,807 crore from the state disaster fund and state government funds was taken at the end of October, after last year’s heavy rains. But, after this, for eight months, the affected farmers could not get direct help. There have been complaints of delay, inadequate assistance to the beneficiary farmers of Pradhan Mantri Fasal Yojana. But, despite this situation happening almost every year, the central and state governments have not been able to find an effective solution to this issue so far.
The leader of the opposition Ajit Pawar on behalf of the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance in the state has demanded that Vidarbha, Marathwada and other parts of the state where heavy rains have occurred be declared areas affected by a natural calamity. He has also called for the convening of the assembly session immediately to give relief to the farmers. But, this entire demand has remained entangled in bureaucratic wrangling.
It is being said that there is no provision to declare hailstorm as a natural calamity. On the other hand, if there is more than 65 mm of rain in a day, only then it is called ‘excessive rainfall’ according to government provisions. The second problem is that the central government has not changed the criteria for compensation due to ‘excessive rainfall’.
Around 1270 farmers committed suicide in Vidarbha and Marathwada in the six months between January and June this year, according to government data. Amravati division has the highest number of 548 suicides. At the same time, 256 farmer suicides have taken place in Nagpur division. In Vidarbha, Yavatmal district has been infamous for the highest number of farmer suicides. It is worth noting that the intensity of rains this year has also been high in districts like Yavatmal. On the other hand, 466 farmer suicides have taken place in Marathwada in the last six months. This is the reason why farmers apprehend more cases ofo suicide this year due to increasing debt and frustration due to lack of income from farming.
On one hand farmers are worried due to the uncertainty of the weather. On the other hand, small and medium farmers still do not have a balance between the cost of production required for agriculture and the income from it. Farmers remain in debt throughout their lives due to rising inflation, shortage of agricultural labour, family maintenance, children’s education and daughter’s marriage expenses. Yet they simply work in the fields day and night in the hope that today or tomorrow the burden of debt on our heads will be reduced.
In a predominantly agricultural country, the central and state governments are required to jointly implement various schemes for agricultural development, give importance to the labour of farmers and provide energy to agribusiness.
But, governments do not have any concrete measures to respond to changes to the rain pattern. At the policy level, unless major decisions are taken regarding this crisis, alternatives cannot be created for the farmers to come out of this crisis. For farmers there will be no ‘achche din’ and the reduction in farmer suicides will remain a distant dream.
Shirish Khare has been associated with rural journalism for a long time and has been continuously reporting on the economic, social and health impacts of rural life during the Corona pandemic.