Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Orissa: A package of lies

Odisha government’s ‘special package’ for rain affected crop loss is grossly misleading in its quantitative and qualitative coverage.

Bimal Pandia/Bhubaneswar

A half page advertisement, placed prominently in all major newspapers of Odisha, regarding Chief Minister’s declaration of special relief package to farmers affected by low-pressure induced rain has generated more condemnation than kudos. While the academics debate about it at their levels, nature ravaged farmers are getting a sense of a big letdown.

“As you can see, I have lost the whole crop. But now I get to know that the package is not for me,” says a bemused Annada Mishra of Bankia village in Sonepur district while he was trying his hands at salvaging operation fully knowing that “the cost of the salvage operation will be more than the value of the salvaged crop”. While Annada, a big farmer, is peeved because he is entitled to a maximum compensation of only Rs 2,000; Anata Bariha, a small farmer of Dhatuk village in Balangir district, is dumbfounded as the so called package is barely a fraction of what he did spend on his now ruined crop. “I am being told that I will get only Rs 1,200 compensation. I had spent Rs 20,000 for raising this now ruined crop,” informs Ananta.

To cover so less and so few

The farmers believe that the package rubs salt on their wounds. They have reasons to believe so. While announcing the package, Naveen Pattnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha, did mention that crop loss of more than 50 percent have been reported from about 12 lakh hectares of land. Ironically, this package will cover only a fraction of those affected. Even if all affected land is covered and all of it is irrigated, for which highest compensation will be paid, still total compensation that the government will be required to pay will be a mere Rs 480 Crore – barely half of the so called Rs 900 crore package.

But, neither the entire land is irrigated nor will all affected land provided compensation. Odisha Agricultural Statistics claims that irrigation potential has been created in 47.5 percent of the state’s total cultivable area. But, as per a very conservative estimate only 81 percent of the potential is being utilised. That means about 20 percent of land presently enlisted as irrigated is in fact not getting any irrigation cover. Thus effective area under any sort of irrigation is only 38.5 percent of the total cultivable area.

If 38 percent of the 12 lakh hectares of land supposedly identified as rain affected are irrigated, the maximum possible total compensation - assuming an unrealistic supposition that all land holders are eligible for compensation for all of their holdings - for irrigated lands will be Rs 182.4 Crore only (4,56,000 hectares getting compensation @ Rs 4,000 per hectare) and the maximum total compensation for non-irrigated lands will be Rs 148.8 Crores only (7,44,000 hectares getting compensation @ Rs 2,000 per hectare). Even in the best possible scenario, where all affected land becomes eligible for compensation, the government will spend only Rs 331.2 crores on compensation. But the best possible scenario is not at all a reality. Due to land holding pattern and the ceiling laid out in the so called ‘package’, only a fraction of land identified as rain affected are likely to be eligible for compensation. Big and medium farmers will be entitled to a maximum compensation for one hectare only.

As per the 2001 population census 83 percent of 42,34,000 farming households in Odisha are marginal and small farmers who own only about 40 percent of the total land. In other words, about 17 percent of big and medium farmers own about 60 percent of the lands. Thus the ceiling will eliminate scope of compensation to as high as about 40 percent of affected lands which belong to medium and big farmers.

Further, the December rain mostly caused losses in low lands where farmers normally go for late duration crops. Ownership of such low lands mostly lies with the big and medium farmers. This kind of pattern is more prominent in western-southern parts of Odisha.

Why did you prompt us to take up high-cost high risk crops?’

While the very basic claim of the ‘Rs 900 Crore special package’ is hollow and misleading, the compensation ‘package’ itself is atrociously humiliating to farmers. The ‘package’ is a mere implementation of ‘Calamity Relief Fund (CRF)’ norms. Section 3(e)(i) of the CRF norms which lays out norms for more than 50 percent of crop loss stipulates, “assistance to small and marginal farmers for agricultural crops, horticulture crops and annual plantation crops @ Rs 2,000 per hectare in rainfed areas, Rs 4,000 per hectare under assured irrigation area.. (a) No input subsidy will be payable for agricultural land remaining unsown or fallow. (b) Assistance payable to any small farmer with tiny holding may not be less than Rs 250”. The CRF norms are not ‘special packages’.
“This compensation for a hectare is awfully ridiculous and unacceptable,” says Ashok Pradhan, Convener of Paschim Odisha Krushak Sangathan Samanyaya Samiti (POKSSS). The Samiti has started a massive farmer movement in western Odisha now. “The crop loss happened at the last stages. We have almost made all expenditures required for raising and harvesting a crop,” informs Murari Prasad Purohit, leader of POKSSS and questions, “Now we are spending at least Rs 12,000 for one acre (Rs 30,000 for one hectare) of paddy. What is the value of a mere Rs 800 compensation for a loss of Rs 12,000”. Even the banks and cooperatives provide crop loan @ Rs 9,000 per acre for rainfed paddy. “This compensation at best covers less than nine percent of the loan amount,” points out Bijay Dishari of Mukhiguda village in Kalahandi district.

Farmers naturally feel aggrieved. “The government wants us to go for high-yielding and high-cost cropping practices to feed a growing population. But it does precious little to cushion our losses. We have not only made losses, we have lost income for a whole year and more,” adds Bijay. “Why are our farmers being asked and encouraged to go for high-cost cropping practices,” questions Saroj Mohanty, a noted farmer activist. “In the long term, total cumulative output from a high-cost method invariably equals that of a traditional and low cost method,” Mohanty adds. Increasing natural disasters, pest attacks and untimely supply or shortages of inputs are growingly affecting high-cost. Burden of shouldering such losses has squarely fallen on the hapless farmers. “We were better off growing our crops traditional way where cost of production was very low,” says Daktar Bhoi of Darlipali village in Balangir district. He too echoes Mohanty, “Why did you lure us to take high cost crops which not only increased our risks but also increased our losses. We are worst off now”.

While farmers having crop loss of more than 50 percent rue their fate, farmers having lesser crop loss complain why their losses are not been taken into account at all. They too will fail to recover costs, let alone make profits. Those who have harvested something find no takers for their discolored produces. The package does not even make a consideration for those.

As magnitude of losses keep on increasing owing to vagaries of nature and the government continues to be found more and more wanting, farmer’s woes continue to mount. While other state governments have acted differently, Odisha government’s indifference has peeved the farmers adding to further frustration which does not augur well for the future.

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