Crops on 13 lakh ha destroyed in 28 Maharashtra districts

Crops on nearly 13 lakh hectares worth several hundred crores have been destroyed in unseasonal rains and hailstorm in as many as 28 of Maharashtra’s 35 districts over the last fortnight. A calamity, which has set alarm bells ringing in the Congress-NCP government over farmers’ backlash in the Lok Sabha polls.

The State estimates it will need Central assistance worth over Rs. 600 crore to help compensate the farmers. In the last few days, politicians have rushed to the region. Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar made a two-day visit. On Tuesday, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray toured the area.

“Part of the kharif crop and virtually the entire rabi crop have been destroyed. The situation is quite serious,” said Relief and Rehabilitation Secretary Milind Mhaiskar. “The impact will be all more in Marathwada, which has experienced two years of drought. The Vidarbha region also saw massive crop damage during the heavy rains last year,” he added.

The hailstorm began around February 22 in Vidarbha and later spread to Marathwada, north Maharashtra and western Maharashtra. Besides food crops, over a lakh hectares of horticulture crops including grapes, bananas and oranges were destroyed, according to the government. Twenty-eight people and 1,600 animals were killed.

Rural Nagpur, in the Vidarbha region infamous for farmer suicides, has been worst hit, with crops on 1.38 lakh hectares destroyed.However, the Marathwada region has borne the brunt of the calamity. The districts of Latur, Osmanabad and Jalna have had crops destroyed on more than 90,000 hectares.

Farmers’ groups have criticised the government response. “Politicians visited us only after the polls were announced. If they are serious about this issue, they should defer the polls and tackle the crisis. Otherwise, the model code of conduct will hamper relief operations,” said Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti leader Kishore Tiwari.

But Mr. Mhaiskar said: “This is a natural calamity and we hope the Election Commission does not object to relief activities.”