37-year-old farmer Kishori Lal Mishra’s condition in UP’s Hamirpur district stunningly mirrors the iconic 1950s’ movie, Do Bigha Zamin, which deals with the shocks of being a small peasant without safety nets.
Mishra’s mixed farm of paddy and pulses was destroyed when the monsoon failed. The land is now mortgaged. He owes Rs 1,00,000 to lenders in all and is desperate to get it back. “If I get at least half of what I invested from the government, I’ll be able to free my land,” he told over phone to HT.
Thousands of farmers like Mishra are still waiting to be recompensed. In a painfully slow system, a summer’s drought often gets notified only in winter, as has been the case this year. This affects many poor farmers’ ability to invest in the next crop cycle.
Of the 18 states affected by poor rains, only four — Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh — have declared a drought so far, a necessary step to decide on the pay-outs farmers get. India relies on a statistical practice — called crop-cutting in agricultural jargon — to estimate yield losses to formally declare drought, which is a laborious, bureaucratic exercise.
Large states with a substantial rain shortfall are yet to declare drought, including Haryana (38% deficient), Uttar Pradesh (46% deficient), Bihar (28% deficient), Rajasthan (12% deficient) and Telangana (20% deficient).
Even insured farmers aren’t better off. In UP, the Allahabad HC ordered insurance firms to settle claims expeditiously. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav told HT: “Rain-deficit districts would be declared drought hit after a committee headed by chief secretary Alok Ranjan and agriculture production commissioner Pravir Kumar submit report on crop loss”.
Even a large state like Maharashtra, usually efficient in calculating losses because of being drought-prone, has yet to formally submit its drought demand. A fall in rural incomes, which supports nearly half the population, has impacted demand in an economy where companies sell bulk of their goods in the countryside.
As interim measures, the Centre had allowed funds meant for a national production plan and the State Disaster Relief Fund to be used for relief. Yet, that’s hardly been enough. “Crop-cutting is a necessary exercise. You can’t skip it. States need to have efficient machinery to hasten the process,” Ashok Sikand, a former Indian Statistical Service officer said.
(With inputs from Rajesh Kumar Singh, Lucknow)