First heat, then hailstorm: Madhya Pradesh farmers set for another round of compensation battle

First heat, then hailstorm: Madhya Pradesh farmers set for another round of compensation battle

First heat, then hailstorm: Madhya Pradesh farmers set for another round of compensation battle

While the toll-free number to inform about crop loss is unresponsive, non-receipt of crop advisories and weather updates from the government aggravates the farm crisis

Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh: “Saheb, what shall I tell you. These wheat plants portray my destruction and you are still asking how much I have lost?” says Kuber Singh Rajput, a farmer who lost half of his wheat crop on 10 acres of land to the sudden rain and hailstorms that wreaked havoc in over 25 districts of Madhya Pradesh recently.

Hailing from Khajuri Kalan, a village located 30 km from the state capital Bhopal, Rajput cries inconsolably as he examines the fallen plants. “Neither the weather is in our favour nor the government. In early February, we were worried as wheat began to ripen early due to unseasonal heat. The field was irrigated more often to save the crop. All that hard work proved futile in another 15 to 20 days. We have nothing to do now other than pray to gods to spare us from further rain,” says a hopeless Rajput.

Ganpat Dodiya cultivates gram and wheat on 22 acres in Khajuri Kalan. He thinks the additional irrigation could have been avoided, had they received prior information on the likely change in weather. The losses would have been less if the moisture content in the fields was minimal.  

Backing him, Rajendra Ravi Chauhan says he had mustard, gram and wheat crops on 14 acres of land. “Mustard began to ripen in December itself because of the unseasonal heat. Being way ahead of the usual mid-February schedule, a loss was expected. I pinned my hopes on good yields from wheat and gram to compensate for the loss from mustard, but to no avail.”

Chauhan says the agriculture department provided weather updates via mobile phone calls and messages until the COVID-19 period. “We have raised complaints on the CM helpline many times about the stoppage of service, but we were not heard.”

Soon after the rain havoc, the state government instructed the Collectors of affected districts to carry out a survey and provide financial assistance as per the provisions of the Revenue Book Circular. It was clarified that the relief amount will be in addition to the insurance payouts for beneficiaries. In an emergency review meeting chaired by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, officials informed that the survey was over in places where rain lashed between March 6 and 8, while it was progressing in areas where crops were damaged between March 16 and 19.

However, the farmers in Bhopal’s rural areas, including Khajuri Kalan, Dobra Jagir, Padariya Jat, Kolukhedi, Gunga, Samardha and Brickkhedi, claim no one has come to survey their fields so far.

In Dobra Jagir, Ajay Thakur's wheat crop lies flattened due to the intense downpour (Photo - Sanavver Shafi, 101Reporters) 

‘What about our claims?’

Even as his gram and wheat crops on 22 acres lay flattened, Ajay Thakur of Dobra Jagir gets an SMS from the cooperative society reminding him of loan repayment. He took the loan from Reliance General Insurance Company Limited under the Chief Minister’s Farmers’ Cooperative Loan Assistance Scheme.

Emotions weigh him down as he speaks. “Yes, the crop loss can be forgotten, but what about the loan? I have outstanding dues of Rs 52,480 in my name and Rs 2,59,860 in my mother’s name. How will I make money to repay these debts?”

When contacted, Cooperation Department Joint Commissioner Sanjay Dalela tells 101Reporters that messages were sent to remind farmers about loan repayment and to keep up the pressure on them. “Based on the farmers’ request, the government has extended the loan repayment deadline for kharif season from March 28 to April 30. As for the crop loss due to hailstorm and rain, a compensation of Rs 32,000 per hectare will be provided.”

He informs that the government was providing relief even when the crop damage was only 25 to 35%. If over 50% of the crop had suffered, compensation would be given for the entire crop.   

However, Thakur and other farmers are unamused. “I insure my crops every season. This time, it came to Rs 8,640. But when it is the turn of the insurance firms to release the claim amount following crop damage, they provide a toll-free number (18001024088) and vanish. We were told to register a complaint within 72 hours of crop loss. I have been calling this number regularly for the last three days, but it is either not reachable or busy. How do I claim my crop insurance?”

Munnalal, who lost over 50% of his gram and wheat crops on 18 acres, also faces this problem. “I insured my rabi (October-April) crops by paying a lump sum amount of Rs 7,260. I am helpless now. The toll-free number does not work and the banks do not offer any succour. Even if one manages to somehow make the claim, the amount is either not credited or comes after a very long time.” 

He was pinning hopes on the rabi crop as he had suffered losses when heavy rains played spoilsport in the last kharif season (June to October). “The government talks about conducting a survey within seven days of crop damage and prompt disbursal of relief. But where are the survey teams?”

Akash Parashar, Bhopal district officer of Reliance General Insurance, says the farmers have to deposit only 1.5% of the fixed premium rate in the rabi season, while the rest is provided jointly by the Central and state governments. While insuring the crop, farmers are given cover notes or slips. 

“It is true that the district administration informs the insurance company within 72 hours for initiating the loss assessment process. The toll-free number becoming busy or not reachable is a technical issue, which is rectified on time. If that was not true, how did we process the insurance claims of thousands of farmers who were affected by the recent rains and hailstorms,” he asks.

In Khajuri Kalan, Kuber Singh and his fellow farmers examine the damage on the day after the hailstorm (Photo - Sanavver Shafi, 101Reporters) 

Timely advice proves beneficial

Farmers in Kolukhedi village under Berasia block have managed to reduce crop damage because they received timely weather updates via mobile calls from both agriculture and meteorological departments.

“We started receiving these calls after the kharif season. In accordance with the advisories, I sowed wheat and gram ahead of schedule on my seven-acre field. By the time the heat increased in February, my crops were ready for harvest. By month-end, we were informed about the upcoming hailstorm. So, I made quick arrangements to harvest the crops and to protect the produce from rain,” says Munshilal.

Meanwhile, Department of Agriculture Joint Director BL Bilaiya tells 101Reporters that farmers are informed about climate change through multiple means, including phone calls and mobile app. “If we find that the information is not reaching them on time, we update the data again in our system. In future, we will also try to increase the number of awareness camps to reach out to more farmers,” he says.

Dr BM Nandre, a scientist at the Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering, Bhopal, says awareness camps were organised in rural areas of Vidisha district recently to provide crucial information on sowing of crops for the next season.

According to Dr RK Jaiswal, Principal Scientist, Fruit Research Centre, Bhopal, several Central schemes are in progress to deal with climate change, but there are no immediate solutions to the problems of farmers. If a farmer is smart, he will have many tools at his disposal, Jaiswal says. 

However, Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh president Shivkumar Sharma of Machhera Khurd in Hoshangabad district says the last two years have been hard on farmers. “Half of the farmers who apply for compensation do not get it. Ideally, the government should waive off the loans of farmers if there is a delay in providing compensation. If this does not happen, we will launch an agitation in a phased manner,” Sharma adds.

Raising concern over the survey, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) Berasia tehsil president Devendra Singh Dangi tells 101Reporters that the survey teams have not reached the fields of many farmers who suffered crop loss between March 6 and 8.

“We are monitoring the administrative action, after which we will launch agitations. We know the agriculture department’s efforts on the ground are negligible, though they make tall claims about sensitising farmers through calls, messages and camps,” he adds.

Cover photo - In Dobra Jagir, Munnalal and other farmers evaluate the damages to their crops (Photo - Sanavver Shafi, 101Reporters)

Edited by Rekha Pulinnoli


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