New Delhi,Iftikhar Gilani: Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi enhanced the compensation for crop damage and relaxed the eligibility criteria for relief a few days ago, a central government circular has put the affected states in a fix.
A circular by the disaster management division of the Union home ministry on April 8 has asked chief secretaries to compensate farmers from the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) and get it reimbursed from the national fund.
However, there's a catch: this assistance will only be for the first disaster in a financial year. "In case the state faces another severe disaster during the same year, no adjustment will be made while releasing National Disaster Relief Fund (NDRF) assistance," the circular says.
Recently, prime minister Narendra Modi had said: "The amount of compensation has been increased. If earlier, a farmer was getting Rs 100, he will get Rs 150 now; if it was Rs 1 lakh, he will get Rs 1.5 lakh now… A 50% increase." He said this while inaugurating the MUDRA bank.
But even this announcement is cold comfort. Documents and communication between ministry of home affairs and chief secretaries as late as April 8 accessed by dna suggests that farmers in rain-fed areas will be paid Rs 2,750 per acre and Rs 5,465 per acre in assured irrigation areas.
There are more conditions. Norms say that compensation will be limited to farmers having a maximum 4.9 acres of land. This means more than half the farmers will not be eligible for compensation. The maximum cash relief a farmer can get is Rs 13,475 and Rs 26,778 for rain-fed and assured irrigation areas, respectively.
Former rural development minister and Congress leader C P Joshi called it "another cruel political gimmick to dupe and deceive gullible farmers hit by unseasonal rains damaging their crops."
But he could not explain why the previous UPA government, which also followed the same norms, did not find it fit to overturn them.
In 2013, rubbing salt into the wounds, farmers were issued cheques worth Rs 2 and Rs 3 as compensation in Haryana and elsewhere.
Agriculture ministry officials, who were still finalising details, apprehend the situation hitting the prime minister's image immensely.
As a double whammy, the Centre is also continuously lowering the crop- damaged area. Even its own assessment of the damage was on 181 lakh hectares or 447 lakh acres, but the ministry has reduced the crop-damaged area as 80 lakh hectares, post the PM's announcement.
The actual benefit will be further reduced to 40 lakh hectares because of the eligibility norm of maximum two hectares. This includes damage to horticultural crops like onion, mango, grapes and banana, which was the case during the earlier preliminary assessment by the agriculture ministry also.
In case of mustard, the damage estimate has been lowered from 2.57 million hectares to 1.77 million hectares. "We have urged state governments to complete their assessment and survey of damage done to standing crop quickly, and from the Centre, we are ready to share whatever burden the states want us to share," minister of state for agriculture Sanjeev Balyan said.
Further, when the central government ordered to relax the moisture content of wheat beyond 14% during procurement, a letter dated April 8, addressed to Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh by the union food ministry asks them that "luster lost wheat containing more than 10% and up to 50% affected kernels may be purchased with one-fourth of one full value cut on flat basis."
Joshi told dna that even undamaged wheat crop has moisture content of 20-30% because of repeated rains and hailstorms. "The refusal to relax moisture norm would lead to no procurement at all by the FCI and other government agencies, leaving farmers at the mercy of market forces, he said.
Meanwhile, the central government has decided to depute at least two central ministers to each of the 14 affected states, who will visit villages and monitor distribution, of relief and compensation and push the states to complete their damage assessments on time.
Agriculture ministry officials said they were working to include rain into the category of national calamities, apart from hailstorm and frost, which would help in enhancing compensation.
But Maharashtra unaffected
Mumbai: Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Friday made it clear that the Union Government decision would not have any implication for Maharashtra since the state has already paid more compensation to farmers. He said his government has so far disbursed over Rs 10,000 crore to farmers in the state, hit by hailstorm, untimely rains and drought in a single year.
Maharashtra has recorded 17,645 farmer suicides between 2001 and 2014. The state is contemplating providing insurance cover to 1.25 crore farmers having small land holdings, taking into account repeated natural calamities hitting farmers in a single year.