Revenue and Agriculture department officials on Sunday said an initial estimates have shown that standing crops spread over 35,000 hectare land from North Maharashtra, Western Maharashtra, Marathwada and Konkan have been severely damaged due to the ongoing hailstorm and untimely rain since last three days. Crops spread over 20,000 hectares are believed to have damaged from Nashik district alone, which is a leading hub for the production of grapes, pomogranate, onion while the damage to mango orchids from the Konkan region is expected to reduce the mango production in the coming season.
Farmers have resorted to agitation demanding hefty compensation while few said they were left with no alternative but to commit suicide as they have no money to repay loans and stay afloat. Officials admit that the damage to the Rabi harvest was extensive in Northern Maharashtra. This is the second bout of unseasonal climate to hit Maharashtra after hailstorms damaged the Kharif crop in Nashik and Osmanabad in March this year, leading to a spurt in farmer suicides in the region.The weather bureau has predicted hailstorm and unseasonal rain for 48 hours. More hailstorms are projected in January.
However, the havoc caused due to nature’s fury has posed a serious challenge to the already cash strapped BJP led government in Maharashtra. The government, which has last week announced a Rs 7,000-crore package to provide relief to drought hit 19,059 villages situated in Vidarbha and Marathwada, will need to declare another package of not less than Rs 5,000 crores to aid farmers affected due to hailstorm and untimely rainfall.
A senior official from the state finance department admitted that the situation was quite grim. He told Business Standard: “Already the government has announced 40% cut in the plan expenditure. Of the Rs 7,000 crore package, the government has made allocation of Rs 2,000 crore while majority of the balance money is expected from the Centre. This apart, the state revenue deficit has risen to Rs 26,000 crore as on date from Rs 4,500 crore in March. The government’s public debt is Rs 3.44 lakh crore and the state cabinet will soon have to take a call to raise further loan to assist farmers and thereby tide over the current crisis.”
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who today visited affected villages in Nashik district, announced loan waiver and assured to extend further assistance. The announcement is likely to be made in the ongoing winter session of the state legislature at Nagpur.
Minister of State for Cooperatives, Dada Bhuse, who is elected from the Malegaon outer constituency, also visited Nashik and assured speedy relief. Nationalist Congress Party leader Chhagan Bhujbal, who hails from the Yevala seat toured the affected villages and demanded the government pay a compensation of Rs 50,000 per hectare to farmers.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray pressed for early panchnamas (site inspection report) of the affected areas so that farmers get immediate assistance.
However, state revenue minister Eknath Khadse said heavy rains and hailstorms in North Maharashtra for the last three days have made immediate preparation of panchnamas of the damage to crops difficult.