With unseasonal heavy rains and hailstorms continuing to wreak havoc in 28 of the 35 districts in Maharashtra, the state government Thursday decided to approach Prime Manmohan Singh to seek special financial assistance towards a Rs 3,000-crore proposed compensation package.
Crops on nearly 20 lakh hectares is feared to have been destroyed, state officials said. Besides, hailstorms have claimed 28 lives , damaged over 18,222 houses and killed around 9,180 poultry birds and farm animals.
At a special meeting Thursday, the state cabinet proposed a relief package of Rs 3,000 crore and decided that a delegation led by CM Prithviraj Chavan would meet the PM and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in this regard.
Once the Centre indicates the extent of relief it can provide, the state cabinet will seek the Election Commission’s permission to contribute the remaining fund from its own coffers, a senior official said.
With Lok Sabha polls looming, the state Cabinet is pushing for immediate disbursal of the relief.
Meanwhile, the EC has objected to the state’s plan of announcing the relief package, questioning the delay in decision-making. The EC argued that even as hailstorms started lashing parts of the state on February 22, the state did not announce any relief measures till March 5, when the model code of conduct for LS elections kicked in.
However, ministers argued that much of the devastation took place only after March 5.
Under the Natural Calamity Relief Fund, the compensation amount is Rs 4, 500 per hectare for agricultural non-irrigated land, Rs 9,000 for agricultural irrigated land and Rs 12,000 for land under horticulture crops. The cabinet, however, wants to extend relief worth Rs 10,000, Rs 15,000 and Rs 30,000 respectively. Besides this, they also discussed waiver in interest on crop loans and eletricity bills for the affected farmers.
A senior government official said the CM was likely to request Singh that the Centre foot 50 per cent of the bill. If the Centre declines this request, then the government will demand urgent release of Rs 1,200 crore from the Centre due under NCRF norms.
A senior official, however, said an immediate disbursal was unlikely since assessment of the damage was still going on.
The state is already staring at a revenue deficit of over Rs 3,000 crore in 2013-14, which is estimated to further rise to Rs 5,400 crore in the next fiscal. The Cabinet also discussed the possibilities of external borrowing to meet the package needs.
Meanwhile, a union government team Thursday surveyed affected areas to assess the damage. They were critical about the delay in recording panchnamas. Pawar tweeted Thursday that a detailed report from this team would be submitted to the government by March 19.