Alone, with the mounting loan

Tomojit Basu | Updated on March 10, 2018 Published on March 27, 2015

Come a cropper Many farmers in Punjab are dreading the cascading ill-effects of an unseasonal rain   -  PTI

Farmer Deepu Singh

Farmers across Uttar Pradesh and Punjab lament weather woes and lack of social security

Consumers may be bracing themselves for rising prices of vegetables and fruits, but the unseasonal heavy showers and hailstorms through the first half of March have already dealt a significant blow to farmers across much of the northern, central and western belts.

Agriculture Ministry estimates earlier this week showed that Rabi crops in about 181 lakh hectares (lh) of the cultivable 600 lh have been damaged. Wheat in about 120 lh (75 lh of it in Uttar Pradesh) appears to have borne the brunt, as also mustard (25 lh), pulses (20 lh) and vegetables across 2.3 lh.

State governments have since been advised to assist farmers through their Disaster Relief Fund’s corpus of ₹5,270 crore.

Debt servicing

Farmers across UP and Punjab, among the 13 States affected, were doubtful whether the Centre or State governments would help repay their debts. “Paying back loans is problematic during such times. This is the biggest reason why suicides begin or people turn to crime,” said Shobharam Thakur (62), who lost nearly half of the standing wheat in four bighas at his eight-bigha farm in eastern UP’s Basti district.

State BJP chief Laxmikant Bajpai claimed last week that nearly 25 farmers had killed themselves after adverse weather damaged their produce.

Bitter-sweet wait

Thakur said he usually produced five quintals of wheat per bigha, so this year he would lose about 10 quintals, which would have fetched roughly ₹14,000 from State procurement agencies. To repay his loan of ₹15,000, he is banking on his sugarcane crop, although beleaguered mill-owners in the State are struggling to pay cane farmers on time yet again.

“If the State Government can ensure that mill owners pay ₹240 a quintal, then the problem can be tackled,” he said. However, he did not expect the Akhilesh Yadav administration to execute their promises on the ground.

Insurance policy

None of the farmers Business Line spoke to had availed themselves of crop insurance. The reasons ranged from lack of information to high premiums, delays in settlement claims and the practice of grouping villages together instead of insuring individual farmers.

“We tried farm insurance once, but realised it’s a waste of money… We had a drought that season but a neighbouring village received some rain, and so we did not qualify for compensation,” said Deepu Singh (30) from Jasmadi village in Lakhimpur Kheri district, central UP. Nearly 30 per cent of his wheat crop was damaged across six bighas, setting his family back by ₹10,000, excluding the cost of cultivation.

Mangeram Tyagi (41), from Syana village in Bulandshahr district of western UP, said he had run up a loan of ₹8 lakh for a season he had great expectations from. Hail-damaged mango blossoms at his 40-bigha orchards will now halve his returns. “We pay premiums for insurance but never get anything in return,” he said.

Lumbering State

The Punjab Government moved too slowly and has not grasped the scale of the problem yet, said Wajir Singh (50), who farms mainly wheat on his 40 acres near Faridkot. Rabi crops in nearly 3.5 lh have been damaged in the State.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal had requested the Centre to raise the compensation for 100 per cent loss to ₹10,000 per acre from ₹3,600, as the lower amount barely covered input costs.

“Overall cost of cultivation per quintal of wheat is around ₹1,700; we get ₹1,400 from the Government, which has not responded in time. We are hoping for some subsidy to help us repay at least the debt,” Wajir said.

Small farmers in the region are estimated to have lost, on average, ₹26,000 each due to loans taken from informal lending channels, which hurts more if they work on rented land.

Social impact

Wajir said that, in his experience, children were the hardest hit during such adversity as they ended up working on the fields instead of attending school, even as older kids turned to crime and drugs to deal with their frustration.

“Lenders work in such a way that we end up taking nearly ₹10 lakh to run our homes! Many aren’t able to repay the debts and commit suicide. The family hushes it up to prevent a scandal,” said Gurmeet Singh (52), while attending a four-day protest organised by the Bharatiya Kisan Union against the Land Acquisition Bill in the Capital last week.

“So much money is spent on the Army, which protects our country. We feed the country, why can’t policies be evolved to protect our families too?” he asked.

Published on March 27, 2015
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