A dozen people died and around 90 were injured on Sunday in unseasonal rain and hailstorms in Rajasthan as severe weather triggered by a western disturbance across vast swathes of north and west India caused extensive damage to winter crops ripe for harvest.
Officials said heavy rain and hailstones the size of golf balls damaged standing Rabi crops of cumin, mustard, wheat, barley, gram and potato as well as vegetable farms in the countryside which feed all major urban centres in the western and northern states, especially Delhi.
Most casualties — human and livestock — in Rajasthan were reported because of house collapse and lightning, though the recorded maximum rainfall on Saturday and Sunday was just moderately high at 52mm for an arid state.
In Bhilwara, where six people have died, the district administration announced Rs 1.50 lakh each to the families of deceased. District collector Ravi Surpur said preliminary reports suggested 50% crop damage.
Agriculture officials said Rabi crops in at least 20 districts were flattened to the ground while harvested grains in open markets were spoilt.
In neighbouring north Maharashtra, officials were directed to provide assistance to farmers at a war footing - especially onion growers and those owning and vineyards and pomegranate orchards in the Nashik belt. Vineyards laden with ripened grapes suffered a double whammy over the past 48 hours since these were already battered by a bout of surprise rain late last month.
The strong western disturbance born in the Arabian Sea has engulfed western Uttar Pradesh as well as Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, where the weather forced President Pranab Mukherjee to cancel his trip to Mandi for Sunday's convocation at the IIT there.
Hailstones and rain damaged wheat, mustard and potato crops in Agra and neighbouring districts."Farmers were expecting a bumper potato crop but now will be happy with even half the average yield," said Ravi Singh, a farmer in Agra district, where farms were knee-deep in water.
In Neemuch and Shajapur areas of Madhya Pradesh adjoining Rajasthan, thousands of acres of standing crops were damaged. The administration promised to survey the damage and provide financial help but agitated farmers demanded immediate relief for their hail-ruined poppy and wheat crops.
Villagers said only 10% of their crops had been harvested before the hailstorms struck.
Moderate rain in Uttarakhand prolonged the chill in the hills where the Celsius dropped at least seven degree below normal in most places.
The Met office predicted more rain over the next 24 hours, prompting badly-affected Rajasthan to take emergency measures with the help of non-government organisations — such as distribution of food packets and utensils and sending medical and veterinary teams to areas worst hit by the freak weather.