A grim harvest

SATYANARAYAN IYER | Updated on April 01, 2014

Baramati : A combo picture showing parts of a road after hailstorm and heavy rains in Baramati, Maharashtra.   -  PTI

Survivor: Shanta Jadhav was hit on the head by hailstones

Farmers in Maharashtra are struggling to cope with losses from last month’s hailstorm. Satyanarayan Iyer, who travelled extensively through the affected areas, chronicles the region’s woe.

Shanta Jadhav will never forget that day. It was March 8, a Saturday. The 70-year-old and her husband were in their small hut in Balamthakli village in Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra. At 6.30 in the evening, they were startled by a loud thud, which was immediately followed by a ferocious hailstorm.

Ice balls the size of onions began pounding the hut’s tin roof, accompanied by rain and strong winds. Soon, water began flooding her home. “I thought our hut would collapse,” a visibly shaken Jadhav recalls. The couple took shelter in a nearby bungalow.

Jadhav, who was injured on the head, was among hundreds of people caught unawares by this hailstorm. However, not all of them lived to tell the tale ( see: >A hailstorm of death).

The storm ravaged 28 of Maharashtra’s 35 districts and parts of Madhya Pradesh. Apart from the emotional trauma, farmers in the region suffered huge economic losses. Initial estimates peg the losses at ₹10,000 crore in Maharashtra and ₹1,000 crore in Madhya Pradesh.

In villages such as Balamthakli and Ekdara in Majalgaon, many trees lie uprooted while those still standing have been denuded. “There are no leaves left,” laments 61-year-old Bhanudas Galdhar, who says he has never seen anything like this in all his life.

Jeevanprakash Kulkarni, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, concurs with Galdhar’s assessment, saying the storm was “unprecedented”, and that there is no record of a hailstorm wreaking havoc on this scale before.

Rabi crops, such as onion, wheat, jowar and corn, died a premature death in most of these farms. Small farmers (those who own less than 2 hectares of land) were hit badly.

Even fruit orchards with pomegranates, mangoes and bananas suffered damage. The losses of fruit growers exceed those of crop growers by a significant amount.

Little compensation

The compensation they will receive is minuscule compared with the actual losses incurred, say farmers. For instance, a farmer who grows wheat in one hectare would have earned at least ₹30,000 from his produce. But the maximum compensation he will get is ₹10,000. Similarly, fruit farmers have lost lakhs of rupees, but the State has declared a compensation of a mere ₹25,000 per hectare.

“No country can give compensation to match the extent of the damage. It is meant only for immediate relief, which is why people in advanced countries rely on insurance,” said a top official in the Maharashtra State Disaster Management Authority, requesting anonymity. And insurance is something few farmers in Maharashtra opted for this year (see: >Time they took cover).

The final compensation amount will be decided after tehsildars complete their field surveys and submit reports.

Based on the findings, the Maharashtra Government will release money to districts, after which the farmers will get it from district administrations. “It can take anywhere between 8-15 days or even more after we get the money from the State,” estimates a district level disaster-management official.

According to the State’s policy, a farmer is entitled for compensation only if there is over 50 per cent damage to his or her fields.

‘Farcical exercise’

Farmers, however, are not happy with the way field surveys are being conducted and say they are nothing but a farce. Officials come and interact with familiar faces in villages and then leave, complain residents across villages. “If they are not going deep into the fields, how will they know the extent of damage?” asks Sanjivini Avchar of Shahapur village in Majalgaon.

However, administration officials in Beed and Ahmednagar districts maintain that the survey has not been completed yet. “Our officials are burdened with election duty. They have to verify the election rolls and are grossly understaffed,” says an official in the Beed administration, who did not want to be named. “The survey will take longer and the State has given us additional time to complete it.” Villagers say survey officials have made it clear that the cotton crop will not be included in the assessment as the season (for cotton) is already over. Besides, since crops like onion and jowar were extensively damaged, farmers will be forced to sell the produce at a much lower price.

In Khadakwadi village, Ahmednagar district, Sanjay Dhokle says he is going to end up selling cut onions (the unspoilt side) at ₹2-3 per kg when the market rates would have fetched him ₹10-15/kg.

Why do such storms happen? The Institute of Tropical Meteorology’s Kulkarni is not sure. Since it was a one-of-a-kind disaster, a link to global warming cannot be established immediately, he says. He’s also not certain whether such disasters can be prevented in the future. Meaning, Indian farmers need to take other measures, such as insurance, to protect themselves from such events.

Published on March 31, 2014

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