Radhabai, a 30-year-old daily wager from Ekdara village of Beed district, was plucking cotton on March 8 when the overcast sky opened up. Heavy rain with tennis ball-sized hailstones forced her to take shelter under a tree. “Heavy wind dislodged a branch of the tree that fell on her head. She died on the spot and was lying there for hours. We got to know only when someone informed us,” said her husband, Bhagwant Gawade. Ten days since her death, Radhabai’s children Ashwini, 13, and Rama, 17, are trying to cope with the tragedy. “That day, we had asked her not to go to the fields. But she said it will help her earn an extra 100 rupees,” they said.
Heavy rains and hailstorm have been lashing Beed over the last fortnight. Farmers across 943 villages are experiencing one of their worst economic losses. Six deaths have been reported so far. Primary survey by the agriculture department revealed that crops spread over 55,000 hectares in Beed have been destroyed.
District Collector Navalkishore Ram said that all standing crops of jowar, wheat, onion, cotton, etc have been destroyed, and it was perhaps the first time in 30 years that Beed had seen a hailstorm of such magnitude. “Parli, Majalgaon, Gevrai, Dharur, Vadwan, Shirur Kasar and Ambejogai talukas have the worst hit blocks. Hailstorms are being reported almost every day,” he said, adding that preliminary loss is estimated to be around Rs 50-60 crore. “Out of the 55,000 hectares, 4,500 hectares had orchards of lemon and mango and that loss is huge,” Ram said.
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Majority of the farmers here had not opted for any crop insurance policy. Standing near what was once his golden yellow field of wheat, Parashuram Rathod, a resident of Talkhed village in Majalgaon taluka, said, “Last two years we faced drought and this year hailstorm has destroyed our standing crop. I had managed to harvest wheat, but there was no time to take it to the granary. How will I repay my loan of Rs 4 lakh?”
“My son wants to join B Pharma course. I had taken a loan of Rs 8 lakh. With my crops damaged, how will I pay his fees?” said Pandit Chavan of Govindwadi in Majalgaon taluka.
The roof of Sunita Chavan’s house was blown away. “Neighbours took my children to a nearby temple, while my mother-in-law and I took shelter under a cot. The hailstorm lasted for two hours. My house was filled with hailstones and a portion of the cowshed had collapsed,” she said.
The families of those who died were given immediate compensation by the district collector, but so far no relief has been announced for the injured.
Bhaskar Khande of Shahpur said that it took five days for the talathi to visit the village and prepare a panchnama. “The talathi did not visit the fields, he sat at one place and completed the panchnama,” he complained.
Political leaders — including Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and BJP vice-president and sitting MP Gopinath Munde — have also visited the district. However, due to the model code of conduct prior to the polls, none of these leaders made a mention of compensation. The impending polls have led to a delay in the disaster management efforts of the district collectorate, as the same officials are also responsible for election preparations.
Beed will go to polls on April 7. “If we are not given compensation, we will not vote this year,” said some villagers.