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Insulating Annadata from inclement weather

  By Vijay Darda | 06-04-2015

Let us get a few things clear right at the outset. We may debate the pros and cons of global warming, climate change, its impact on the economy and apportion blame for it in international conferences. But at the level of individual citizen we do not have this luxury. The individual citizen, especially the farmer here, is a victim of uncertain and inclement weather. For those having any doubts, here is the clincher. Almost within a matter of few days, the Central government has confirmed that crop damage due to unseasonal rains and hailstorms was reported in 106 lakh hectares in 13 states including Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in the current rabi season. The total area cultivated being 600 lakh hectares.

Now, come to the global argument. In two years – 2011, and 2012 – a sum of nearly 30 billion dollars of the tax payers’ money was paid to cover crop loss as against an average of 4 billion dollars during the entire decade 2001-10. This is a four-time increase in a country that does not depend on farm incomes as the mainstay of the livelihood for the bulk of its population. So, we have two basic conclusions. One farm income losses due to climate change and the responsibility of the government to cover. In the case of our government, the responsibility is much higher as an estimated 55-60 per cent of the population survives on farming as a means of livelihood.

We all know that this is the age of mobile phone. In some places, the number of mobile phones is perhaps more than the adult population. It is also equally well-known that the Government of India has invested heavily in modern technology based forecasting system. You can go to the internet and look at the five-day weather forecast for your district. 

All the data, that you may need like temperature, rain and humidity etc is present over there. To its credit, the government has also introduced a scheme called WBCIS (weather based crop insurance scheme) that is supposed to insulate the farmers precisely from the same kind of calamity that has befallen this year. The scheme has been in operation since 2007. Now technically, for the government it is possible to cover every farmer under this WBCIS, and also inform him/her about the weather conditions on his/her mobile. But here comes the tragedy. The coverage of the scheme is neither universal, nor compulsory. Only a fraction of the crores of the farmers are covered, and even when the coverage is there, the payment of compensation is a big hassle. A common complaint being that individual farmers are not compensated, and with villages being treated as a unit for compensation eligibility, there is a reluctance on the part of the farmers to get on board. 

Although there may be some rationale for this approach, in a rough parallel with personal life insurance, it virtually amounts to being a system wherein the family that loses a kin would not get any insurance claim, unless every family in the village loses a kin at the same time. How attractive would be such a scheme for you? Once again, like everything else the government has also put in place a mechanism for compensating farmers in the event of such natural calamities. 

There is a State Disaster Relief Fund with a corpus of Rs 5270 crores this year. Under this SDRF, state governments can give input subsidy to farmers at the rate of Rs 4,500 per hectare for rainfed areas, Rs 9,000 per hectare for irrigated areas and Rs 12,000 per hectare for perennial crops. For those with a grievance that this amount is low, there is the promise from the Union finance minister Arun Jaitley that the government is likely to revise the cap on assistance, and has set up an informal group of ministers, headed by home minister Rajnath Singh, to look into the issue.

Anyone can see that these rates are quite measly when compared to the losses suffered by the farmers, some of whom earn lakhs of rupees per hectares (in Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra). Moreover, governments are used to increasing compensation amounts only in percentage terms, and whatever be the promised hike as per the finance minister’s assurance, it hardly likely to come as a relief for any farmer who has been distressed by this huge loss. Besides, the process of actually getting the per hectare compensation for any farmer is going to be quite an uphill task.It is thus easy to see both sides of the same coin. The growing magnitude of the farmers’ distress, and the increasing inability of the government to provide measures that would substantially alleviate it. 

This indeed, is the anatomy of agrarian crisis that grips the country. I painfully remember that when it first enveloped Vidarbha and especially our district Yavatmal, there were all kinds of uncharitable comments about the ‘lethargic attitude’ of the people from the region. In sum, holding them responsible for their own act of suicide, and trying to paint a picture as if something was wrong with them, and not the circumstances. But can the same argument be put forth in the case of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh — as all these cotton growing areas too have witnessed a spurt in farmers’ suicides. We have been guilty of ignoring this issue for decades now and it has taken a huge toll of more than 2.84 lakh lives in the 1995-2012 period of 18 years as per government data.

The national tendency to dismiss all issues not connected with the metros as those having some subsidiary importance is at the root of this scary phenomena lying unattended in the domain of the national agenda. The same thing is happening with regard to the extension efforts related to spread of knowledge and awareness about weather forecasting. Nowhere is the maxim – to be forewarned is to be forearmed – more relevant as in the field of weather related calamities. In floods, people can take evasive action. In drought, the people can be well prepared. Ahead of rain, they can seek shelter or cover for their crops. This is the time for collective concerted action, supported and empowered by technology.

Before I conclude…

A word about the warning on El Nino is in order. This is the abnormal warming of the Pacific Ocean waters with its consequent impact on the South West Monsoon. This year it has arrived, and though later than usual and at a 50 per cent force, it could still have an adverse impact on the quality of monsoon. It would be useful to remember that a strong El Nino in the past has produced severe drought years, though not all of its impact is harmful.


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Insulating Annadata from inclement weather


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