For nearly a decade, farmer Bhupinder Singh has often looked at the sky to thank god for his bumper wheat crop. This year is different. In the past one month, unseasonal rains and hailstorms have made Singh a worried man. Nearly 30 percent of his wheat crop spread over seven acres has been flattened.
And for the crop which is still standing, Singh has a lot to worry about.
The moisture content in the grains is going to be much higher than the prescribed limits for government procurement and may not fetch him a good price.
"I and other farmers are not even sure if the government agencies will buy our wheat. We are ruined. Many farmers do not have enough money to sow the next crop," Singh, whose agricultural fields are near Samundra village between Balachaur and Garhshankar towns in Punjab, told IANS as he showed the damaged crop.
The sad part for the farming community is that the untimely rain has occurred just a month before harvesting the wheat crop. Grain markets in Punjab and Haryana, which contribute over 50 percent of foodgrains to the national kitty, get the bulk of the harvested wheat crop after the harvest festival of Baisakhi (April 13).
The damage is no different in neighbouring Haryana.
"Between 30 and 40 percent of the wheat and other crops have been damaged just before harvesting. The government has to help the farmers by compensating them for the loss," Jagdish, a farmer near Diwana village in Haryana's Panipat district, told IANS.
The procurement season, which officially begins on April 1 every year, has been put off for the next 10 days as the wheat has not ripened enough for harvest. The procurement target too has been cut down substantially.
Across Punjab and Haryana, the actual damage is being calculated by revenue officials. Rough estimates put the loss between 35 and 45 percent.
While the Punjab and Haryana governments have demanded liberal compensation for farmers, the central government has quoted existing norms, under which the centre gives compensation only if the damage is over 50 percent.
Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has sought the personal intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for upward revision of the compensation to the affected farmers at a rate of Rs.10,000 per acre.
Badal said the present norm of Rs.3,600 per acre compensation for 100 percent loss was "too inadequate as it does not even provide for the input cost of farmers".
"Punjab and its neighbouring states have experienced widespread rains over the past few days," he said, adding that the average rainfall was 42 cm on March 1 and 2.
"Although rains at this point should be good for the standing wheat and other Rabi crops, unfortunately the intensity and frequency of rains coupled with high velocity winds and hailstorms have caused substantial damage to the crops and impaired the livelihood of a large number of farmers," Badal said in a letter to Modi last week.
In spite of facing scanty and erratic rainfall last year, Punjab was able to see a record production of wheat and paddy crop.
Punjab produced 17.62 million tonnes of wheat in 2013-14 Rabi crop season despite unseasonal rainfall. This was the second highest record yield in the state.
In the Kharif season of 2014, Punjab witnessed 65 percent rain deficit but produced 16.9 million tonnes paddy. The total land under paddy cultivation was 2.82 million hectares.