Five points about Maharashtra’s recent unseasonal rains | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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Five points about Maharashtra’s recent unseasonal rains

Dec 04, 2023 05:03 PM IST

From political impact to demands for loan waiver --- here's why the recent rains and hailstorm will be a talking point in the upcoming assembly session

A few weeks ago, the state government declared that 60% of rural Maharashtra was under drought due to a deficit in rain this year. Now, over 60% of the districts are looking at crop damage due to the hailstorm and unseasonal rains that occurred between November 26 and 29 in around 24 districts of the state. The impact was seen immediately in metro regions like Mumbai, as the onion and tomato prices surged by 20% to 30%. There was also a significant rise in the prices of vegetables and food grains like wheat, rice etc, as local varieties of rice like Indrayani, Vada kolam, and Ambemohar have also been affected.

Navi Mumbai, India - Sept. 27, 2023:Heavy Rains lashes at Koperkharne in Navi Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, September 27, 2023. (Photo by Bachchan Kumar/ HT PHOTO)(HT PHOTO) PREMIUM
Navi Mumbai, India - Sept. 27, 2023:Heavy Rains lashes at Koperkharne in Navi Mumbai, India, on Wednesday, September 27, 2023. (Photo by Bachchan Kumar/ HT PHOTO)(HT PHOTO)

A few weeks ago, the state government declared that 60% of rural Maharashtra was under drought due to a deficit in rain this year. Now, over 60% of the districts are looking at crop damage due to the hailstorm and unseasonal rains that occurred between November 26 and 29 in around 24 districts of the state. The impact was seen immediately in metro regions like Mumbai, as the onion and tomato prices surged by 20% to 30%. There was also a significant rise in the prices of vegetables and food grains like wheat, rice etc, as local varieties of rice like Indrayani, Vada kolam, and Ambemohar have also been affected.

Here are five things to know about what unseasonal weather has done to crops in the state:

Crop damage

Around 24 districts in Maharashtra, including Nashik, Ahmednagar, Buldhana, Jalana, Chatrapati Sambhaji Nagar, Pune, Gadchiroli, Ratnagiri, Solapur and Sangli, were hit by hailstorms and unseasonal rains. Crop damage has been reported in 393,325 hectares so far and may go up as reports from the local administration of the western part of Maharashtra are still awaited.

The state cabinet decided to give compensation for crop loss on three hectares of land, no matter how large the land-holding of a farmer, instead of the usual two hectares, to give more relief to farmers. These unseasonal rains have damaged many crops but the most affected were vegetables, grapes, onions, cotton, grams, toor (Pigeon Pea), wheat, jowar and rice. Banana, chilli and soybean plantations were also damaged in several districts.

Surge in prices

The immediate effect of the crop damage was seen in urban markets as prices of vegetables and groceries surged, affecting the pocket of the common man. Recently, the retail prices of onions came down in the retail market to 60 from 70 per kg, as a new onion crop came into the market. Immediately after the rains, onion prices again reached 70.

Makrand Tambe, a trader of onions and potatoes who comes from Junnar in Pune district — a region which supplies vegetables and onions to Mumbai Metropolitan Region — said that the wholesale price of onions was between around 4,000 per quintal and they were selling at 60 a kilo a week ago. After the rains, the wholesale price increased to 5,000 per quintal and the retail price reached 70 per kilo. On the other hand, the price of tomatoes in the retail market shot up from 50 per kilo to 80 per kilo, as the standing crop was damaged and fresh supply was expected to get affected in the coming days.

The price of okra rose from 60 per kilo to 80 per kilo, while ridge gourd prices rose from 60 to 80 per kilo. Besides vegetables, prices of foodgrains may also increase though the supply is unlikely to be affected in the short term. Paresh Bhanushali, a grocery trader, said prices of foodgrains like rice, wheat, jowar have increased in wholesale markets by 500 to 700 per quintal (wheat which was available at 3,100 per quintal reached 3,600 per quintal) and, as a result, retail prices have also gone up by 7 to 10 per kilo.

Effect on exports and domestic markets

According to Pasha Patel, chairman, the Maharashtra agriculture price commission, the crop damage will not just affect the financial condition of farmers but will also affect agricultural economics.

“Though many crops have been damaged due to the rains, the most important crops are onions and grapes which contribute to the state economy through export and also earn foreign exchange for the country. Last year around 8,500 containers (each container capacity is in the range of 12 to 15 tonnes) of grapes were exported to Europe, Russia etc. Now, due to crop damage of grapes in Nashik, Pune, Sangli and Jalana areas, export will be hit. Onion is a sensitive crop and as a large area of onion crop was affected due to rain, the prices will go up and will affect the domestic market,” he said.

Default of farm loan

Farmers leader Raju Shetti said that cash crops like grapes, banana and pomegranate have been damaged due this hailstorm and unseasonal rains. and this will lead to the defaulting of farm loans.

“Significant investment is required to cultivate crops like grapes, bananas, pomegranate and farmers take loans for it. Due to rains, there is huge loss of these crops so farmers will not be in position to repay the loans which will increase the number of farm loan defaulters. So the government will have to intervene and make some decisions about farm loans as the banking system cannot sustain with this quantity of the defaulted farm loans. There will be some burden on the state exchequer due it but in the past various state governments gave farm loan waivers. So the state government should declare some scheme regarding it,” said Shetti. Opposition parties like Congress and Thackeray faction of the Shiv Sena have already demanded loan waivers for farmers. The state has not made any declaration about this issue till now.

Socio-political impact

Another effect of crop damage will be on the socio-political situation in the state. Opposition has already started reaching out to affected farmers who may not be happy with the government over compensation. Leaders of the Congress party will visit the 34 districts to review the damage and reach out to farmers before the assembly session begins on December 7. To counter this, chief minster Eknath Shinde has ordered all guardian ministers to visit the rain-affected areas.

The political effects of this conflict between ruling and opposition alliance crop damage will be seen in the coming winter session of the state legislature where the opposition and ruling alliance will lock horns on the issue and the state government is likely to make some announcement.

The major challenge for the state government will be the timely distribution of compensation for crop damage. As per the report submitted before cabinet for the loss of kharif crop earlier this year, so far 2066 crore was sanctioned under Prime Minister Crop Insurance Scheme. Of that 1217 crore has already been distributed while the remaining is in progress. Between March and September, nearly 16.39 lakh hectares of agricultural land was affected due to natural calamities like unseasonal rains.

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