The crop damage caused by recent unseasonal rain and hailstorms in seven states could be in a lesser area than the provisional 18 million hectares being reported, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said Wednesday.
The Centre, he said, had freed Rs 5,270 crore from a joint disaster fund it holds with states for urgent assistance, enabling these largely northern and central states to spend on crop-reviving measures.
As hailstorms tend to be quite uneven in their spread, the area affected was likely to drop when the states send in reports, not expected earlier than March 30, he said.
“Right now, the focus is compensation. Estimates over phone of overall losses from states show 18 million hectares but that figure may come down,” Singh said.
“In any case, these figures are not reliable and should not be taken as official.” Uttar Pradesh had revised its estimates downwards somewhat.
Freak winter storms wrecked farm tracts in about 150 districts -- about a quarter of the total in the country -- spread across Punjab, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
These states will now be able to use up the Centre’s 75% share in the state disaster relief fund for “input subsidies” such as cheap diesel seeds and fertilisers. Farmers typically rely on diesel-fired pumps to irrigate fields.
Under the disaster fund, farmers in rain-fed areas -- such as interior Maharashtra -- can get up to Rs 4,500 for each hectare and the money doubles to Rs 9,000 in Punjab-like irrigated states. For damage to perennial crops, a higher assistance of Rs 12,000 is given for a hectare.
However, compensation is allowed only if half of the standing crop is damaged. States can apply for more if the fund falls short.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has instructed senior cabinet ministers to take turns to visit the states.
The Centre has also deployed a seven-member team drawn from crop-specific divisions for each of the states. Singh said once these officials and states submit reports, an inter-ministerial team will visit the areas.
But, three spells of bad weather — between February 28 and March 16 — may hit the wheat harvest, expected to drop short of a government forecast of 95.9 million tonne in the world’s third-biggest producer.
The country received 49.2 mm of rain, which is more than three times the average. A farm ministry official said of the 30.6 million hectares of the total wheat-sown area, about 12 million hectares could have been badly hit.
Damage to various crops -- from wheat, pulses and mustard to fruits -- is likely to push food prices up. Consumer prices rose 5.37% in February from a year earlier, according to government data, up from January’s 5.19%.