Home / Industry / States delay notifying drought even as farm distress peaks

New Delhi: Even though the monsoon ended with a 14% rainfall deficit, with nearly half the country’s districts facing a shortage of over 20%, states are delaying declaring a drought that could provide immediate relief to farmers by compensating for crop damage and restructuring farm loans.

The June-September monsoon, which irrigates over half the country’s farm land without access to irrigation, was deficient or scanty in 49% of the districts, data from the India Metereological Department shows.

The rain-deficit districts are concentrated in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana, Gujarat, eastern Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh. However, except for Karnataka, which notified a drought in August in 27 out of 30 districts and sought 3,050 crore in federal government assistance, none of the other rain-deficit states has declared a drought so far.

For instance, 216 of 459 mandals (blocks) in Telangana recorded scanty rainfall but the state is yet to notify a drought. Similarly, 22 of 35 districts recorded a rain deficit in Maharashtra, taking the state-wide deficit to 27%. In Uttar Pradesh, 68 of 71 districts saw deficit rains and the state-wide deficit was 46% of the long-period average.

The Telegana government has finished a survey and a decision on notifying a drought is likely to follow, according to Sunil Sharma, in-charge of the state disaster management department.

The final estimation of crop loss will be finished by 15 December after which Maharashtra will decide on seeking central relief and giving compensation to farmers, said Umakant Dangat, divisional commissioner of Aurangabad and the officer in-charge of eight districts in Marathwada, a region badly hit by this year’s drought.

“However, we have started relief operations like supplying drinking water and opened fodder camps for cattle. Banks have also been asked to reschedule crop loans," Dangat said.

However, it is having little effect on the ground, said farmers.

“If the government declares a drought we can get the compensation of 6,000 per hectare (non-irrigated land) and electricity bills will be reduced by a third, and interest on loans waived off," said Manik Kadam, a farmer and village council representative from Parbhani district in Maharashtra. “The cattle camps for supplying fodder are on paper. We haven’t got any relief yet."

Last year, Maharashtra declared a drought on 18 November in nearly half of its 39,000 villages. “A month ago, the chief minister said he will notify a drought, but we are still waiting," Kadam said.

Meanwhile, even as states delay notifying drought, farm distress has peaked across the country in the wake of a second consecutive year of deficit rainfall. The monsoon deficit was 12% in 2014.

In Maharashtra alone, 2,234 farmers committed suicide between January and September, revealed a right to information query filed by Mumbai-based activist Jeetendra Ghadge. Mint has a copy of the response from the state revenue department.

According to Rythu Swaraj Vedika, an umbrella organisation of non-governmental organisations in Telangana that collects data on farm suicides, 1,441 farmers killed themselves from June last year till date.

Karnataka reported 516 suicides this year, over half of which were recorded in the last two months, according to data provided by the Congress, the ruling party.

This is the second consecutive drought year, the fourth such event in India’s history in 115 years, said Ashok Gulati, agriculture chair professor at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), Delhi.

“If states are delaying declaring a drought, what is preventing the centre from doing so since 39% of the country’s area is drought-affected?" he asked.

The centre can notify a drought, ask states to assess the damage within two weeks, and initiate immediate relief measures, Gulati said.

“This is dishonesty with farmers and total neglect of the farm sector. Last year, agricultural GDP (gross domestic product) grew at 1.1% and that is bound to reduce by half this year," he said. “In places like Marathwada there will be no drinking water after January, the winter crop will suffer, and the government is sleeping through this crisis."

In April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi increased the compensation for crop damage by 50%, and relaxed norms: farmers in areas with at least 33% crop damage are now eligible for compensation, up from the earlier criteria of 50% damage. However, unless a state declares a drought and the Centre assesses the damage, none of these relief measures kicks in.

Deficit rainfall will impact rural demand which has already slowed in the past few years, said a Crisil Research report released last week. “Already rural incomes are dented due to falling wage growth. Add three consecutive monsoon shocks and what you get is a significant erosion in farm income," the report said, adding that falling export prices of agricultural commodities like rice and wheat have added to this rural income shock.

Nidheesh M.K. in Bengaluru contributed to this story.

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