NEW DELHI: Crop damage in two of India’s largest wheat producing states, Punjab and Haryana, due to unseasonal weather has added a political dimension, with Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda slated to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to request a compensation package for farmers.
In Punjab, the newly-formed Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party government has speedily appointed one state-level officer in each district to make an on-the-spot assessment of the damage and submit a detailed report to the financial commissioner (revenue), Gurjit Singh Cheema.
Anxious to buttress its pro-farmer image, this is the first time that any government in Punjab has taken such measures. Normally assessment of crop damage is entrusted to the district commissioner.
According to Cheema, “The loss is not alarming, except for the fact that 15,000 marginal farmers are affected. We are still to assess the damage, though preliminary reports put it at around 200,000 hectares.”
Villages in the districts of Ludhiana, Patiala, Ferozepur and Muktsar are the worst affected, while only a handful of villages in the state’s largest wheat-producing district, Sangrur, were impacted.
The loss is as severe in neighbouring Haryana, where wheat was sown over 24 lakh hectares, up from 23 lakh hectares last year. According to an official in the Haryana agriculture department, around 1.87 lakh hectares were damaged by hail storms. As a result, the state may produce 5-6 lakh tonnes less than last year.
The damage to the mustard crop is much greater—around 50,000 hectares were badly damaged by the rain.
This year Punjab had sown wheat over 34.5 lakh hectares, down from 34.68 lakh hectares last year. Production estimates this year are pegged at around 14 million tonnes.
Crop damage relief, under the National Calamity Scheme, is normally paid out after a detailed field-to-field inspection.
Interestingly, the scheme was revised by the Punjab government in 1995, and now gives affected farmers a measly Rs2,000 per acre—though it is twice the rate fixed by the Centre. Officials fear that another spate of inclement weather may result in further losses. Punjab agriculture director B.S. Sidhu said that, “the Met department forecast for the coming week is not good.”