Mumbai: As a bitter political tussle and uncertainity over government formation continue in Maharashtra, the state finds itself englufed in a severe agrarian crisis.
A preliminary survey has found that crops on over 54 lakh hectares of land have been damaged due to unseasonal rains and floods in the state during the term of the last Bharatiya Janata Party-led government in the state under Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis — whose tenure ended Friday.
Both kharif and rabi crops across the state have been completely destroyed.
The rabi crops’ sowing season starts from October and they are harvested April onward. Kharif-sowing begins after the advent of the first rains in May-end or June-beginning, and harvest starts between October and November.
The lack of rain in the beginning of the rabi-sowing season destroyed crops in many parts of the state. Later, rabi crops, which managed to grow, and the harvest of kharif crops were destroyed in the floods and untimely rains in October.
Since insurance companies are faced with huge claims for the destroyed kharif crops, none has come forward to pick up tenders for the rabi crop season.
From September this year, six farmers have committed suicide so far due to crop failure. The number could be more, said sources in the state agriculture department. Farmers destroying crops has also become a common occurrence in the state after every spate of unseasonal showers.
The farmers have no one to seek help from with a caretaker government in place that cannot take any policy decisions. This means farmers will not get compensation for their losses at the moment, till the new government takes charge.
“There is an agriculture emergency in Maharashtra. There is a looming food crisis with mass destruction of crops across the state,” said Pasha Patel, chairman of the State Agriculture Price Commission.
“Political parties are fighting over the (CM’s) chair and the farmers are crying. Long-term solutions have to be found other than handing out meagre compensation. When a crop is destroyed, an entire family is destroyed,” said Patel, adding that the crop insurance sector in the state is on the verge of collapse and need urgent attention.
A source in the agriculture department further said the state is staring at a drastic fall in the supply of food grains and vegetables.
Untimely rains spelled doom
Earlier this week, Shiv Sena members allegedly vandalised insurance firm Iffco Tokio’s office at Koregaon Park in Pune for not settling compensation claims of farmers affected by post-monsoon rains.
Sources said when the Fadnavis government floated the first tender for the insurance of rabi crops in September, it did not get any response. This made the government refloat the tender, but without any success.
According to the Economic Survey of Maharashtra (2018-2019), water scarcity during the harvest of kharif crops affected crops on 8.6 million hectares of land.
A source in the agriculture department said the estimated crop loss across Maharashtra due to unseasonal rains and floods is over Rs 5,000 crore.
Farmers in more than 10 districts are also unlikely to get rabi crop insurance under the central government’s insurance scheme, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana.
With insurance companies not filing any bids to implement the scheme, farmers in these districts will be the biggest losers.
Untimely rains also led to an increase in the retail prices of vegetables. Onions, a key kitchen staple, were being sold at Rs 100 per kg in retail markets. Other vegetables, legumes and pulses, on the other hand, have gone off the household menu of low-income families.
Salt and chilli powder chutney have replaced vegetables and are being eaten with chapatis or rice. “Chapatis and rice are unaffordable. We eat one of the two,” said Sachin Sonowne, a plastic-ware seller in Thane.
Farmers forced to migrate to Mumbai, other cities
The floods in western Maharashtra’s Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur districts have also affected the dairy sector, which is centred in these areas. Though preliminary efforts have been initiated, loss of livestock is yet to be quantified here.
Unseasonal rains have also forced many farming families to migrate to Mumbai and Thane in search for work.
Most of these families have taken shelter under the numerous flyovers in these cities or near temples. The male members of these families seek employment as daily wage labourers at construction sites, shops and markets, while the females work as domestic help for low wages.
“Over three-fourths of our field in Latur has been destroyed — first due to the drought and then due to the incessant rains. We have destroyed what was left as it will not give us much and the financial stress of maintaining it will be too much,” said Nanda Behere, who has come to Thane in search for work as a domestic help.
“We do not get paid much. Also it is difficult to get work as people don’t trust us. We are outsiders, we don’t know the ways of the city people,” said Mandakini Shewale, who migrated to Mumbai from Raigad in Konkan region.
According to activist Paromita Goswami, who works in the Vidarbha and Marathwada belt, this year has been particularly cruel.
“Maharashtra is facing one of the worst agrarian crisis. The panchnamas are going on, but there is no clarity on the compensation. In previous years, the compensation amounts have been pitiably low and loan waivers have not been implemented properly. The on-going political turmoil has impacted the farmers severely,” said Goswami.
Climate experts have pointed out that Maharashtra has seen two major calamities this year — drought and floods. They further said cloud bursts and floods will occur regularly in the future. The last five years have also seen a fall in the agricultural production. The state reeled under droughts for three of the five years under the Fadnavis government.
But even then, they were not an issue in the 21 October assembly polls. Political leaders started visiting the flood-hit areas only after the results were declared on 24 October.
During his recent visits to the flood-affected areas, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar had appealed to farmers to not take their lives. A suicide in the family destroys an entire generation, he had said.
Empathising with the farmers, Pawar had also said that it was unbearable for them to witness such unprecedented crop destruction.