At least three farmer suicides and crop burning in eight districts of Odisha over the last 10 days have given rise to allegations that pesticides provided to affected farmers may not have been suitable for their pest problem, and prompted the state government to announce compensation for crop loss.
Farmers in Ganjam, Bargarh, Koraput, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Bolangir, Sambalpur and Subarnapur districts have reported crop damage by the brown planthopper (BPH), known as chakada poka, said an official in the agriculture department. Brunda Sahu, a farmer in Bargarh district, allegedly committed suicide after torching his pest-affected crops. There are allegations that Sahu’s despair over crop loss was compounded by the apathy of local government officials.
Media reports have alleged that the crops were damaged because the pesticides provided were either substandard, or unsuitable for planthoppers. The Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has sought reports on the suicides from principal secretaries of revenue, agriculture, superintendent of police and collector of Bargarh, officials said.
The state government has reportedly announced compensation for farmers who have lost more than a third of their crops. However, the government may not award any compensation to the farmers burning their crops, an official said. It is difficult for government officials to establish the causes and extent of loss if crops are burnt, the official added.
The BJP has alleged a scam in the distribution of pesticides in the state. State BJP president Basanta Kumar Panda told The Sunday Express, “The Odisha government has given distribution rights of pesticides to an institution named Surabhi. No such institution exists. This, as per my information, will reveal a scam worth Rs 500 crore.”
Pramod Kumar Mohanty, who is part of a three-member team sent by the state government to test pesticide samples, told The Sunday Express over phone, “The samples will have to be tested in Bhubaneswar to determine quality.” Mohanty, Deputy Director in the Agriculture Department, also said that Bargarh is “the most affected district”. Bargarh is referred to as the rice bowl of Odisha.
Dr Saurabh Garg, Principal Secretary, Department of Agriculture, said there was no reason to worry. “It (BPH) is not an exotic pest. It is local to the area. It is nothing farmers are not aware of. There is no reason for farmers in the state to assume there is a pesticide crisis,” he said. “The pest attack is a recurrent problem. The government has been aware of it for 17 years. They are apathetic to the plight of farmers in Odisha,” said Panda, who is also the MLA from Nuapada.
Odisha’s Agriculture Minister Damodar Rout was unavailable for comment until Monday, his office said.
According to Rice Knowledge Bank, a website partnering the Indian Institute of Rice Research, a high number of planthoppers initially turns leaves orange-yellow and then brown and dry, a condition called hopperburn. While hopperburn kills affected plants, BPH can also transmit two incurable diseases, rice ragged stunt and rice grassy stunt, the website notes.