For Farmers Facing India's Biggest Locust Attack, Govt Provides Insufficient Relief

The relief amount is merely one-fifth of the total cost a farmer in Rajasthan incurs to cultivate a crop on one hectare of land.

Jaipur: Gujarat and Rajasthan, two states that share a border with Pakistan, are witnessing a massive locust attack, with estimates saying Rabi crops in more than 3.5 lakh hectares of land has been damaged. Crops of wheat, cumin, mustard, gram and psyllium have been devastated in the two states, affecting lakhs of farmers.

While the government is trying to control the locust swarms, farmers in Rajasthan are also being provided relief as per the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) norms.

The Rajasthan government in January announced compensation of Rs 13,500 per hectare per farmer, but with a ceiling at two hectares in four locust affected districts of Rajasthan: Barmer, Jaisalmer, Jalore and Jodhpur.

However, farmers said this was insufficient, saying it is mere one-fifth of the total cost they incur to cultivate a crop on one hectare of land.

According to the data of the agriculture department, the cost of cultivation per hectare for cumin crop in Barmer, Jaisalmer, Jalore and Jodhpur in the current Rabi season is Rs 36,500, Rs 41,000, Rs 41,840 and Rs 48,000 respectively. Similarly, for wheat, it is Rs 34,500, Rs 41,000, Rs 45,500 and Rs 40,000 respectively in the four districts.

Also Read: How Should a Country Prepare for a Locust Swarm?

This means that a farmer in Jaisalmer who would have spent Rs 41,000 per hectare to cultivate cumin crop this Rabi season, would receive only Rs 13,5000 as compensation for the crop loss suffered due to the locust attack.

Siraj Hussain, former Union secretary of agriculture and farmers’ welfare, also said the compensation given to the farmer as per the relief norms is ‘definitely inadequate’. “If you see the cost of cultivation for a particular crop, a stark difference is evident. It is even inconsistent with the latest average monthly income of the farmers in India,” he said.

Even, the compensation set by the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF)/State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF), at Rs 13,500 for a crop loss of 33% and above, was a result of a revision in 2015. Before this, farmers were entitled to relief only if more than 50% of their crop was damaged.

Replying to a Lok Sabha question in 2013 on compensation for crop loss in various areas of the country due to natural calamities, the Government of India said it has formed guidelines for providing relief from NDRF/SDRF in the event of disasters including natural calamities like cyclone, drought, floods, earthquake, pest attack, etc.

A man chases away a swarm of desert locusts in the bush near Enziu, Kitui County, some 200km east of the capital Nairobi, Kenya.
Photo: Dai Kurokawa/EPA/The Conversation

“Assistance is provided for entire holding of small and marginal farmers who have suffered crop loss of 50% and more, whereas assistance to other farmers is capped at one hectare per farmer, irrespective of the size of the holding. This assistance is for providing immediate relief and is not be construed as compensation for loss/damage to life and property,” the Centre wrote in its answer.

The relief also doesn’t meet the average monthly incomes of farmers in India. According to NABARD’s All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey (NAFIS) 2016-17, the average monthly income of agricultural households in India was Rs 8,931. For Rajasthan and Gujarat, the figure stood at Rs 9,013 and Rs 11,899 respectively.

This means a farmer in Rajasthan earns on average about Rs 54,000 in a cropping season if there is no crop loss. However, in cases of even severe crop losses, the maximum relief provided by the government was Rs 27,000.

No liability of PMFBY?

According to the operational guidelines of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), coverage from locusts attack, to be read with the “widespread pests attack”, is provisioned only in the mid-season (from sowing to harvesting) adversity clause of the insurance policy.

“This [mid-season adversity] provision can be invoked for a specific crop or group of crops in the notified insurance unit, by the state government through damage notification, wherein the expected yield during the season is likely to be less than 50% of the normal yield,” reads the guidelines.

“The quantum of likely losses would be decided based on a joint survey conducted by the insurance company and the state government officials. The amount payable would be 25% of the likely claims, subject to adjustment against final claim,” the guidelines add.

While the Rajasthan government say that a formal notification declaring locusts attack as mid-season calamity has been issued in the four affected districts, the percentage of farmers covered under PMFBY in the districts is substantially less.

“This Jaisalmer-Barmer belt is a desert area and farmers mostly don’t take loans from banks to cultivate crops. Hence they are not insured under the PMFBY,” said an official of the agriculture department in Jaisalmer.

Also Read: India Suffers Biggest Locust Attack in 25 Years, Not Fully Controlled Yet

In fact, it is not sure whether the farmers would be entitled to mid-season adversity claim when they are already receiving relief under the SRDF’s guidelines.

“We have already notified the locust invasion as a mid-season calamity. Whether the government’s relief and the 25% claim to be given by the insurance company would overlap or not, is a policy decision of the government,” R.B. Singh, deputy director at the revenue department in Jalore, told The Wire.

The insurance companies also say that the mid-season adversity clause would be accepted only when the conditions laid in the guidelines are fulfilled.

“One of the essential conditions to invoke the mid-season adversity clause is that the loss intimation order has to be issued within seven days from the adverse seasonal event. We still haven’t received any formal order as such,” regional manager of an empanelled insurance company in Rajasthan told The Wire on the condition of anonymity.

Interestingly, the state premium share in Rabi 2018-19, Kharif 2019 and Rabi 2019-20, is still pending.

Om Prakash, agriculture commissioner at the Rajasthan Pant Krishi Bhawan told The Wire, that a notification declaring the locust attack as a mid-season adversity has been issued in the four districts. “We are in talks with the insurance company and once we pay our instalment [premium], the 25% ad-hoc claim will be disbursed to the farmers,” he said.