Home / Industry / Will the drought relief fund ever trickle down to farmers?

Bengaluru: Farmers in Karnataka who lost crops due to poor rains during last year’s June-September monsoon are expected to get central relief only by May this year due to delays in gathering farmers’ bank account details and logistics hurdles due to upcoming local body elections, officials in charge of distributing aid said.

The delays in Karnataka—the first and only state yet to receive funds among 10 drought-hit states which had requested aid—does not portend well for six other states which have been cleared for drought relief and three more who are yet to hear from the Centre.

Four months ago—around the time it declared drought in all but three districts—Karnataka decided to distribute relief through farmers’ bank accounts, switching from the previous system of distributing cheques. However, the agricultural department is still in the process of collecting these details.

“We have collected only 60% of the bank accounts," said V.J. Patil, joint director of agriculture in Belagavi, an arid north Karnataka district where monsoon rains in 2015 were less than half of what they used to get in the last decade.

“Wherever there are single owners for the land, we have no issues. But there are issues where land is owned jointly. We don’t want any errors while transferring money, so it may take at least four months" he said.

That is four months if everything goes well. However, state election commission is expected to issue a notification this week on the local body later this month.

“The notification will not stop the distribution," said Karnataka’s principal secretary of agriculture Manjunatha Prasad. “Let’s say if there is a drinking water crisis. We won’t stop supplying drinking water because of the election right? This will be done in the same way," he said.

But two district commissioners, who did not want to be identified, said because of the logistics involved, it will be difficult to distribute relief funds until the election gets over. The state government will be transferring the funds to the accounts of district commissioners for distribution.

As many as 10 states have declared drought and sought relief adding up to 38,667 crore from the Centre so far, including the big states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

Out of the 11,147 crore the Centre has approved for seven states, Karnataka became the first to receive its share of 1,540.26 crore last weekend, though the government claims the farmers have suffered damage of 14,471 crore. This would cover less than 15% of their losses, an earlier Mint analysis had shown.

Same is the case with other states. In Madhya Pradesh, the farmers will get less than a fifth of what they have lost of drought, said the Mint analysis.

Farmers across India had suffered major crop loss in the 2015 Kharif season when the south-west monsoon, the source of irrigation for half of the country’s farmlands, ended with 14% deficit in September. Known in bureaucratic parlance as input subsidy, the drought relief fund is supposed to compensate for the crop loss of such farmers.

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