Leader of Opposition, Oommen Chandy, has called for the immediate constitution of a crisis management committee to provide succour to rain-affected paddy farmers in the Kuttanad region.

Speaking to reporters after visiting the rain-ravaged fields of Kuttanad along with Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala on Monday, Mr. Chandy said the damage was widespread and devastating. Unless remedial measures were not initiated on a war-footing, the danger of the crop calendar being thrown off-track next season as well was also looming large. Any delay in the ‘puncha’ season would have a cascading effect on the subsequent second round of cultivation as well.

Based on the feedback he had received from farmers during his two-hour trip through Kuttanad by boat, Mr. Chandy said about 4,800 acres of paddy had suffered due bund breaches while ripe crop in over 2,300 acres had been damaged by the continuous rains. Immediate compensation to the farmers, combining the Rs.4,000 per hectare ex gratia as per State norms and Rs.6,000 per hectare from the Kuttanad Package’s Crisis Management funds, should be made available so that the State would not suffer from the cascading effect of the delay of the ‘puncha’ crop, he said.

Even such a compensation would alleviate only by a fraction the financial loss of the farmers, but only such steps could prevent them from quitting the field entirely, Mr. Chandy said, pointing out that the shortage of seeds to re-start the ‘puncha’ round was a major issue. Farmers were preferring the ‘Jyothi’ and ‘Uma’ variety of seeds at this juncture since these varieties meant a lesser duration for ripening.

Any longer duration of the crop would mean that the harvest would be carried into April-May, which was when the summer rains loomed large, meaning more trouble for the farmers. Moreover, as per State Government norms, they would get only 32kg of seeds per acre, when they actually required 60kg. This anomaly had to be solved, he said.

Mr. Chandy also came down heavily on the State Government, alleging that the Kuttanad Package was progressing at a snail’s pace, and that speedy implementation of the package could have avoided the large-scale damage witnessed this time. The crop insurance scheme of the State was also in vain, since no farmer benefitted from the scheme despite paying the premium, he said.

Mr. Chennithala, wanted Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan to visit the affected areas immediately. The Government’s lethargy had resulted in the the State ‘s dependency on other States for rice.

A meeting of MLAs and MPs and other public representatives should be convened immediately to chalk out an action plan to sort out the issue, he added.

A.A. Shukoor, MLA, UDF district chairman C.R. Jayaprakash, KPCC secretary Johnson Abraham, Kerala Karshaka Congress president Lal Varghese Kalpakavadi, DCC secretary D. Sugathan and others were present.

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