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Unseasonal rains drive Dalitbahujan farmers to despair

Unseasonal rains lashing large parts of north India in March this year have been catastrophic for Dalitbahujan peasants and landless sharecroppers, writes Sushil Manav

“… Sab nash kayi dihes [He has ruined everything]”, rued a poor sharecropper, as rains pounded his field. There were no tears in his eyes, but his heart was crying. And his rather abusive complaint was addressed to the Almighty. The very fact that the deeply religious farmer, who spends an hour each in the evening and the morning daily in paying obeisance to his god, prefixed a cuss word to his complaint showed how huge his losses were. Heavy rains in the month of Chaitra (March-April) not only ruined his standing crops but also washed away his investment and income from over six months. Phulpur, Sahso, Jhunsi and other tehsils of Prayagraj (earlier Allahabad) district in eastern Uttar Pradesh are witness to many such scenes of devastation.

   

A combination of rain, hailstorm and gusty winds has driven the farmers dependent solely on farm income to despair. Wheat is usually ready for harvest about 15-20 days after mustard. Hailstorm that struck the area on 18-19 February ruined the standing crop of mustard. And when wheat was ready for harvest, heavy rains of 28-29 March flattened it. The newspapers are trumpeting government claims that the farmers will be compensated for their losses through the crop insurance scheme. However, the ground reality is different. 

Rajwanti is harvesting her wheat crop – or whatever is left of it – on a sunny afternoon that followed  days of overcast skies and rains. Showing the ears of the plants, she says, “See, they have turned black. We will get a very low price for these.” Rajwanti says that this year it did not rain even once during the wheat season and the cold spell was also very short. Due to this, the wheat grains were already small and dull. And now the rains have come as a double whammy. Two spells of rains within a fortnight have blackened the ears of the plants and now the wheat will fetch little in the market. Rajwanti is a sharecropper.  

Sharecropper Rajwanti harvesting her wheat crop (All photos: Sushil Manav)

Guddan’s husband had taken a three-bigha piece of land on lease last year. During the paddy season, he succumbed to dengue. The lease was to last till this Rabi season. With stray cows and bulls a menace, Guddan knew that she wouldn’t be able to guard the field. So, she sowed mustard. But a hailstorm ruined the mustard crop. “Don’t ask me about that,” Guddan says when asked how much they had paid for the lease.   

Mohan Lal of Tulapur village had cut his crop just a day before the rains struck. He shows the grains that have rotted due to remaining soaked in water. Mohan Lal says that this year, besides wheat and mustard, the production of fodder, too, would drop. He replies in the negative when asked whether any survey has been conducted in his village for assessing the damage to the crops. “Did you inform the department and the insurance people?” “We have already lost half of the produce. If we inform them, we would lose the remaining half, too,” he replied. 

When asked to explain, he said that due to the hailstorm on 18 February, the mustard crop got scattered all over. “But still, say, 30 per cent of your crop is safe. Now, if you inform them about the loss, they will visit your field after a week. Mustard grains, once ripe, don’t stay on the plant even for two days. As soon as sun rays fall on it, the pod cracks and grains fall on the ground. So, it is prudent to save the 30 per cent rather than keeping the field as it is for the surveyors and risking losing everything. Who knows when they will come, what report they will submit and whether we will get any compensation,” he explained.  

Mohanlal of Tulapur village shows wheat ears that have turned black.

No provision for sharecroppers

Most of the Dalitbahujan farmers are either landless or own small pieces of land. They lack education and technical skills, too. As such, they depend only on farming for their livelihood. Every year, they lease land from large, prosperous farmers for a lump sum payment for a period of one year (Rabi and Kharif seasons). On the other hand, medium, savarna farmers give their land to landless farmers on a sharecropping basis under which the two share expenses on seeds, fertilizers, insecticides and irrigation equally. The sharecropper is responsible for the ploughing, weeding, harvesting and threshing. He can either do that himself or hire labour. The harvest is divided equally among the two. The lessee farmers and sharecroppers do not figure in the records of the revenue department. They cannot even procure Urea and DAP (Di-Ammonium Phosphate) from primary credit cooperative societies, as Aadhar Card and “Jot Bahi” (land ownership booklet) is needed for it. Obviously, the crops of those who do not own the land are not covered by insurance. And when there is no insurance, there is no question of compensation.  

Process for claiming crop insurance 

Under the Pradhanmantri Fasal Bima Yojana, launched in 2016, the farmers have to inform the insurance company concerned within 72 hours of damage to crops. That done, the farmers have to fill out a form with all sorts of details including the cause for damage, what was sown, the total area in which crops have been damaged and so on. A copy of the insurance policy, along with land ownership documents, has to be attached with the form. A few days after the submission of the form, representatives of the insurance company and officials of the revenue department inspect the field to assess the extent of loss.  

A farmer from Medua village says that if he takes a farm loan, the premium for crop insurance is automatically deducted from his account in a rural bank. Over the last four years, mustard and paddy crops have been repeatedly damaged due to different reasons. But despite making every possible effort, he has not got compensation. “Let alone compensation, no one even visited my field,” he said. 

Wheat plants flattened by heavy rains

Only debtors are insured 

There are around 2.35 crore farmers in Uttar Pradesh, of which barely 10 per cent, that is 20-25 lakh, benefit from crop insurance.  Farmers ordinarily don’t apply for crop insurance. The crops of only those farmers who have taken loans from rural banks are insured. The banks make insurance compulsory to ensure that their money is not lost. Only farmers who have substantial holdings and proper documents to prove their ownership get farm loans.

In 2022, only 19.50 lakh farmers had insured their Rabi crops and 21.37 lakh had bought insurance for their Kharif crops. The companies had collected a total of Rs 781 crore from these farmers as premium. In October, rains caused extensive damage to the paddy crop, after which the companies paid Rs 587 crore to the farmers as compensation.  

The Pradhanmantri Bima Yojana has replaced the Rashtriya Krishi Bima Yojana and its amended version, and under the new programme, crop loss is estimated treating the block or village, not individual farmer, as the unit. For the past three years, four companies – HDFC, IFFCO Tokio, Universal Sompo and Agriculture Insurance – have been contracted to insure the crops in the state. Their contract ended on 31 March 2023. 

 (Translated from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)

About The Author

Sushil Manav

Sushil Manav is an independent journalist and a litterateur. He is also engaged in the sociopolitical activism of labourers in Delhi and the rest of the National Capital Region

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