The Bombay High Court on Friday directed the Maharashtra government to stop forcible recovery of electricity bills and bank loans from farmers affected by severe unseasonal rains and hailstorm. The court also directed the State to restore the electricity supply of farmers whose connections were cut after the hailstorm due to non-payment of bills.
The court told the State government to put on record the method used for surveying the damaged crops after a Public Interest Litigation plea alleged that the government’s methodology was non-transparent and was causing anxiety among farmers.
“The government has been surveying only those fields where there is 100 per cent damage. All those farmers who have suffered less than 100 per cent damage, have been excluded from the survey,” petitioner Prashant Hiray, a farmer from Nashik, claimed.
Three PILs have been filed in the Bombay High Court by farmers seeking swift and adequate relief measures for those affected in the calamity. The petitioners have alleged that the government failed to provide the account of damage to homes, cattle, livestock, due to the hailstorm. “They have given information only about the fields, even that is incomplete,” said advocate Ashish Gaikwad.
Rs. 260 crore released
The State government told the court that it had already surveyed 20,000 hectares of land in the State and had finished 80 per cent of the survey work. It said it had released Rs. 260 crore for the farmers on Friday, and would release another Rs. 600 crore in the next two days.
“As per the Government Resolution we issued on Thursday night, we have announced a Rs. 4000-crore package for the farmers. Of that, Rs. 2,000 crore will be given as assistance, while Rs. 2,000 crore will be used for waiving off electricity bills, restructuring of agricultural loans and for input subsidy,” government pleader Milind More said. He added that the package was mere assistance and not compensation for the farmers.
The Election Commission (EC) told the court that it had given conditional approval to the State government’s relief package in the wake of the model code of conduct. The EC has barred the Chief Minister or any other Minister from making any announcement on the issue. “Observe maximum transparency in distribution of relief such as publishing the list of beneficiaries in villages,” the EC letter submitted before the court stated.
“Cheques should be issued to the affected families only by government officials, and not by any politicians,” Pradeep Rajagopal, who appeared for the EC, said.
The Union Ministry of Agriculture told the division bench headed by Chief Justice Mohit Shah that it was considering granting compensation to three States affected by the hailstorm.
The Election Commission has given conditional approval
to the government’s relief package