In the past few years, Telangana has seen successive seasons of unusual rainfall, resulting in significant crop damage. The most recent were the erratic summer rains and hailstorms that ravaged lakhs of acres of crops between March and May. However, the nearly 70 lakh farmers of Telangana have nothing to fall back on during such unpredictable weather events.
The Telangana government opted out of the Central government’s Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY, a crop insurance scheme launched in 2016), and the Restructured Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme (RWBCIS) in kharif 2020 (June to September), claiming that these were not beneficial to farmers. Nearly four years later, the State has still not announced an alternative for its farmers and is the only State in India without crop insurance for farmers. Further, Telangana has not released disaster relief support under the National Disaster Management Act of 2005 since 2019.
This year, owing to mounting pressure, the government did announce on April 19 a “one-time” input subsidy of Rs.10,000 an acre. According to a government order (GO), 1.51 lakh acres of crop were damaged between March 17 and 21. The beneficiaries of this notification are awaiting the disbursement of the money. Thousands of others are waiting anxiously for new official orders for the crop damage that occurred after March 21.
Various news reports and farmers’ collectives estimate the crop damage to be 10 lakh acres. Most senior officials stated that they were “not authorised” to share State-level data on the extent of losses. According to the office of Agriculture Minister S. Niranjan Reddy, the “enumeration of damages is still ongoing”.
Paddy crop losses
Paddy crop losses were among the biggest this season. It was cultivated on 53.7 lakh acres, the highest ever in Telangana for the rabi season (mid-November to April/May). Both standing crops and the harvested yield suffered badly because of the rain since March. In several districts, the harvest either got soaked or was washed away. The government assured farmers that all damaged crops would also be procured.
Madhava Reddy, 56, leased 12 acres in Atkmakur mandal of Yadadri Bhuvanagiri district to grow paddy. He invested Rs.3.5 lakh and was expecting a good harvest when rain and hail pounded his field between March 17 and 21. There was more rain to come in the following days.
“I lost nearly 2,100 kg of grain,” Reddy told Frontline. He said he spent nearly Rs.2,500 on a tarpaulin to cover the produce and Rs.25,000 to hire workers to dry the paddy as millers usually insist that the moisture content be under 20 per cent. Procurement too was delayed; Reddy usually sells his crop within 20 days, but this year it took close to 50 days, even after the grain dried up. He estimates his losses at Rs.1.5 lakh.
Reddy is waiting for money from the paddy sale and crop compensation to be deposited in his bank but is yet to hear from officials. He hopes to get it before June’s sowing season.
Farmers are uncertain about compensation for their damaged maize crop, besides chilli, mango, papaya, and oil palm saplings. A farmer in his 50s from Warangal planted oil palm on his three-acre plot. “Officials convinced us to cultivate oil palm and distributed the saplings free. Nearly 30 of my saplings died, and several others were damaged in the rain. I have been seeking a replacement, but it is more than two months and no one has responded,” the farmer said. He even offered to buy the saplings but is still waiting for a response from officials.
“There are several issues surrounding each crop, which are not being addressed adequately. The enumeration, too, is being handled unsatisfactorily,” said Ravi Kanneganti, the co-founder of Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV), a farmers’ rights organisation.
The subsidy amount and the inclusion of tenants are a welcome move given the years of non-payment of compensation and non-inclusion of tenants in most government schemes.
The input subsidy of Rs.151 crore vide the April 19 order covers only a small portion of the total losses farmers have suffered since mid-March. For instance, according to the GO, 467 acres in Nizamabad district qualified for input subsidy, but a preliminary assessment by district officials estimated the damage to be on 30,000 acres of land till the end of April.
Officials said that according to the “assessment criteria”, the enumeration had been submitted for 15,000 acres. In Suryapet, 5,382 acres were listed in the GO, but district officials say damage on another 11,500 acres was recorded in April.
“Since the hailstorm and untimely rain have been in different spells for four weeks, enumeration of damage is still ongoing,” said the office of Telangana Agriculture Minister S. Niranjan Reddy. The Minister further said: “We are not looking for relief from the Government of India, which was always a nominal Rs.5,400 an acre, which is unsatisfactory.”
The Telangana government’s record in handling crop insurance and input subsidy instils no confidence in farmers.
“Since the hailstorm and untimely rain have been in different spells for four weeks, enumeration of damage is still ongoing. ”S. Niranjan ReddyAgriculture Minister, Telangana
Although Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao in his initial press meet on March 23 assured farmers that nearly 2.2 lakh acres of crop damage would be covered, the figure was modified to 1.51 lakh acres in the GO.
“Many farmers contacted us from Adilabad, Vikarabad, and Yadadri-Bhongir after rabi crop losses. Adilabad farmers faced issues with getting their crop damage enumerated. We took up the cases with the Collector and ensured that these farmers’ names were covered,” said Sree Harsha Thanneeru, the coordinator of the Kisan Mitra Helpline, which works towards improving access to entitlements and government support services. He said the government had not done enumeration for damages since 2018. Activists of the RSV did a field survey in April to cross-check the enumeration issues in 17 villages across 10 mandals. They spoke to nearly 300 farmers and observed that the crop loss of almost 30 per cent of the farmers they spoke to had not been taken into account for compensation. They also have concerns regarding the lack of transparency in assessment criteria for crop damage.
“There were several cases of officials concluding without even visiting the field that the farmer had not suffered losses. Tenant farmers were not enumerated in most locations,” said Ravi Kanneganti of RSV.
Farmers and activists say the Rs.10,000 input subsidy per acre is only a “one-time” relief and not a policy decision. Instead of such announcements, they demand a robust policy. The RSV held a roundtable conference in May and called upon all political parties to demand a comprehensive crop insurance and disaster management policy.
“The State government should issue a notification for crop insurance from 2023 kharif crops. They must also compensate farmers for the crop damage farmers suffered in the preceding years,” said Kanneganti, summarising some of the demands.
- Unpredictable rainfall devastates Telangana’s crops, causing significant damage to lakhs of acres. The State government’s decision to opt out of crop insurance schemes leaves 70 lakh farmers without coverage.
- The government has announced a “one-time” input subsidy of Rs.10,000 an acre for 1.51 lakh acres of crop damaged between March 17 and 21. Farmers demand a comprehensive crop insurance scheme.
- Over the past 10 crop seasons, Telangana has spent over Rs.65,000 crore on its flagship Rythu Bandhu, an investment support scheme. But it has come under criticism because nearly Rs.2,000 crore of this goes to farmers with large landholdings annually.
There is a long list of pending arrears for damaged crop. According to a government submission to the Centre, 15 lakh acres were damaged in October 2020. Then there were instances of crop damage from submergence by the Kaleshwaram backwaters in July 2022. According to news reports and activists, almost 11 lakh acres were damaged in the 2022 rains.
Several writ petitions and a public interest litigation (PIL) petition have been filed over the years in the Telangana High Court seeking adequate compensation, but the government has sidestepped most such attempts. The legal fight is on.
The RSV had to file a case in the High Court to get the Telangana government release Rs.23 crore as disaster relief in 2018. Senior agriculture officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the priority of the State was Rythu Bandhu, which took up a significant portion of the funds.
“Several studies emphasise the role of crop insurance as a measure to adapt to climate variations and adverse events.”
In court submissions regarding its efforts to ensure farmers’ welfare, the State has repeatedly emphasised its flagship Rythu Bandhu scheme, an investment support scheme. Over the past 10 crop seasons, Telangana has spent over Rs.65,000 crore on the scheme. According to official data, nearly Rs.2,000 crore of the Rythu Bandhu money goes to farmers with large landholdings annually, which activists and academics have criticised as an unnecessary burden on the State.
Several studies, including those published by government-supported institutions, have emphasised the role of crop insurance as a known measure to adapt to climate variations and adverse events. After Telangana’s creation, the government-supported Environment Protection Training and Research Institute (EPTRI) created a “State Action Plan on Climate Change For Telangana State” in 2015. As a critical risk intervention, it highlighted “Insurance against crop failures (not just for the bank loan component)”.
Over 90 per cent of Telangana’s farmers are marginal or small landholders exposed to mounting debt and income insecurity. Additionally, they lack comprehensive crop insurance and disaster management policies to offset their losses during unforeseen weather events.
Having crop insurance cover would have mitigated the problems that Mekala Ramakanth of Talamadugu village in Adilabad district faced. Cotton has been the go-to crop for Ramakanth for various reasons: availability of private credit, ease of selling cotton, irrigation, and soil fertility issues. Ramakanth owns four acres of land and has taken eight more acres on lease to grow cotton.
Last year, he had to sow seeds four times as the rain washed away most seeds in July. “Our family then decided to lease a smaller plot of land as we could not cope with the risk of the changing weather patterns, decreasing yield, and increasing costs,” Ramakanth said. Consequently, the family’s income has reduced.
According to the report “Climate Vulnerability Assessment for Adaptation Planning in India Using a Common Framework”, published by the Department of Science and Technology in 2021, Telangana has five districts (Adilabad, Kumarambheem Asifabad, Peddapalle, Warangal Rural, Mulugu, and Jayashankar Bhupalpally) under the “Relatively High Vulnerable” category and 22 under the “Relatively Moderately Vulnerable” category. The report cites the lack of crop insurance as a driver of vulnerability in at least six districts. Low per capita income is another driver of vulnerability. “To reduce the risk, the State has to take a closer inventory of its natural resources, create better cropping patterns, and encourage environmentally sensitive production practices,” said G.V. Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture in Hyderabad. “The residual risk could be addressed with crop insurance and a disaster management system for when disasters strike. Telangana is doing neither.”
With the Assembly election due this year in the State, Bharat Rashtra Samithi leaders pronounce ab ki baar kisan sarkar (this time, it will be the farmers’ government), but the commitment to the overall welfare of farmers has been lacking on several fronts, crop compensation being just one of them.
Official sources and Ministers have refused to comment on any future plan to institute a comprehensive crop insurance scheme for Telangana’s farming community. Until such a policy is announced, the farmers will be caught between the whims of the government and the vagaries of nature.