Special Correspondent

They also demand dismantling of the block insurance system

Farmers should be given the freedom to choose insurance companies Under the present policy, no company has come forward to offset the losses Agriculture should be treated as an industry

CUDDALORE: Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry farmers have urged the Centre to modify the crop insurance policy to help them at the time of natural calamities.

In a memorandum, presented through the Confederation of Indian Farmers' Association, they have called for dismantling the block insurance system that treats the entire block as a single unit, in which the individual losses are suborned. The farmers should be given the freedom to choose the insurance companies so that whenever natural calamities occur they could get timely relief.

The farmers allege that the present insurance policy remains only on paper, and no company has come forward to offset the losses.

R. Vriddhagiri, coordinator, Federation of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry State Sugar Mills Cane Growers' Associations, and a member of the association, told The Hindu that the memorandum highlighted the plight of the Tamil Nadu farmers due to the drought from 2002 to 2004, the tsunami and the unprecedented rain and floods during 2005.

It was customary for the nationalized banks and the primary agricultural cooperative banks to deduct 2.5 per cent of the loan amount towards insurance charges. But they were not issuing either the vouchers for the amount or the insurance policy.

For want of valid documents, the farmers could not claim the money, whatever be the extent of damage, the memorandum said.

Mr. Vriddhagiri pointed out that even the individual poultry units, where the lifetime of the broiler chickens was hardly 45 days, were enjoying the benefit of insurance. But this facility was not available to the farmers raising crops (of staple food varieties) of three-four months duration at grave risks.

A paltry compensation would not mitigate the sufferings of farmers. Only a full-fledged insurance cover could see them through difficult periods.

The Federation also called upon the Centre to treat agriculture as an industry and extend suitable benefits. The Central and State Governments were vying with each other to give financial support to sugar mills, whereas the interests of cane growers who supplied the inputs were ignored.

The Government used to pump in substantial funds on easy terms to prop up sick units, but in the agricultural sector, the lending rates were so high - ranging from nine to 14 per cent - that they imposed a heavy burden on farmers.