Thursday, December 7, 2023

Kishore Poreddy Column: ‘No’ for crop insurance; ‘yes’ for blame game!

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The risk of crop loss due to weather-related incidents like heavy rainfall, especially untimely rain, floods, and hailstorms, is an unfortunate and routine occurrence in our state, just like anywhere else in the country or the world. In the last nine months alone, we have seen untimely rains and hailstorms causing catastrophic losses to farmers in the state. Besides the recent downpours and hailstorms destroying crops in Khammam, Mahabubabad, and Warangal districts, River Godavari was in spate twice – in July and September last year, due to untimely heavy rainfall. The one in July was so sudden and devastating that our Chief Minister resorted to conspiracy theories involving foreign powers and cloud bursts to divert attention from the state government’s administrative failure.

For a state which relies heavily on agriculture, and with scientists warning that climate change will only make natural calamities more frequent and unpredictable, crop insurance is not a luxury but a minimum necessity to provide financial security against ruinous losses to our farmers. The finding that Telangana ranked fourth in the country for suicides by farmers and daily wage labourers in 2020, according to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, only adds urgency to the need.

Despite every logic dictating the need, the Telangana government adamantly refuses to offer crop insurance to our farmers. Instead, it discontinued the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana with no alternative. Whenever the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state demands the implementation of Fasal Bima to provide security to our farmers, the government argues that the BJP-headed Gujarat govt too had discontinued the scheme – leaving out the crucial detail that the Gujarat government has introduced an alternative called the Mukhyamantri Kisan Sahay Yojana, which simplifies and broadens coverage.

With no crop insurance scheme in place, the Telangana farmer is at the mercy of those in power and the financial solvency of the public exchequer for any compensation when disasters strike. And unfortunately, our Chief Minister’s compassion is driven more by politics and elections than farmers’ losses. ‘Maximum politics and minimum governance’ has been the hallmark of his administration.

So, for example, when there were no elections in sight, and farmers incurred heavy losses due to the incessant rains in September and October 2020, the government offered no assistance. The farmers had to approach the Telangana High Court for relief. Instead, the government tried to blame the Center, saying it did not release any funds. The HC had to come down heavily on the state and ordered it to compensate the farmers – including tenant farmers – and to provide crop insurance.

“Substantial amounts were available with the state government under the SDRF to provide relief to farmers who suffered crop losses caused by heavy rains in September and October 2020. Such funds included sums made available by the Union of India amounting to Rs 977 crore on April 1, 2020, itself and Rs 449 crore was released to the state government under the SDRF during 2020-21 (Central share), with Rs 149.67 crore being the state’s share. The amount was credited to the account of the state government during 2020-21. So, it cannot blame the Union of India for not providing funds to it for the said purpose,” the High Court bench remarked, debunking the state’s excuse.

State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF), mentioned by the HC in its order, is designed to be the last resort and a supplementary source of relief like a top-up. Lacking crop insurance, SDRF has become Telangana’s first and only resort to compensate farmers. For the record, every state’s SDRF is funded by the Central and that state’s governments in the ratio of 75:25, except in the case of North-Eastern States, where the Center provides 90 per cent of the fund. Even when the state had to bear only one-fourth of the cost, the Chief Minister did not see any benefit from compensating the farmers in a non-election year.

In contrast, the Chief Minister quickly announced relief when Hyderabad faced floods just before the GHMC elections and to farmers who lost their crops over the last week. In both instances, three things were recurrent. Upcoming elections, SDRF funds, and the blame game that the Center has not released any funds – hiding that the Central government provided 75 per cent of the funds in SRDF. As usual, the Chief Minister broke his promise to the GHMC voters after the elections were over, just like promises made during the Huzurabad and Munugode elections concerning Dalit Bandhu and Sheep Distribution Schemes.

My only hope is that the Chief Minister, keeping his maximum politics model aside, delivers his promise quickly and fairly. That he does not, for political gains, involve his party MLAs in beneficiary identification as he did in Dalit Bandhu and Two Bedroom schemes. The farmers are in too much pain and do not deserve another ordeal.

(The author is BJP TS spokesperson)

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