Govt eyes disaster policy rejig to help farmers hit by freak weather

  • Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 31, 2015 07:56 IST

The Modi government is looking to overhaul the country’s disaster management code so that it is “better suited” to shield farmers and the country’s largely uninsured farm sector from weather shocks.

Inter-ministerial consultations had begun on revising and widening the nation’s disaster relief policy to cover erratic weather events that ruin crops but otherwise do not have much impact on life or property, official sources told HT.

In 2013, swollen rivers barrelled down gorges in the hill state of Uttarakhand after a sudden surge in rains, taking down entire towns and killing more than 1,000 people.

The following year, six states declared drought though predictions were of a normal monsoon. This year, three spells of storms and hail have flattened crops in 14 states.

New labels being considered will, for the first time, enable spells of unseasonal and excess rainfall — like the ones witnessed this winter — to be treated as disaster so that farmers qualify for central support. Between February and March, the country received 49.2mm of rain, nearly three times the average.

The Radha Mohan Singh-headed agriculture ministry is of the view that nearly 10% of relief funds should be reserved for localised disasters, an official requesting anonymity said.

Though Singh did not confirm or deny this particular proposal, he told HT, “You have seen the recent weather patterns. All I can say at this stage is that we are working on making disaster response more suitable for farmers. Excess rainfall on crops should qualify for disaster relief.”

Many weather events that damaged crops were not covered under the National Disaster Response Force’s rules, he said.

According to officials, nearly 12 new categories of weather events that tend to be of a localised nature are being written into the disaster code, including unseasonal rainfall that can devastate farms, landslides and even lightening.

Apart from hurting farm income, unseasonal rains typically stoke food inflation, such as the nearly 200% rise in wholesale onion prices in December 2013.

In a country where two-thirds of the population depends on farm income, such weather damage tends to spill over to the broader economy by squeezing rural demand for manufactured items.

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