Vikas Deshmukh, a banana grower from Palsod village in Akot taluka of Akola district, has not been able to insure the 40 acres of banana plantation he owns yet. By this time last year, Deshmukh had paid the required premium of Rs 8,200 per acre to insure the land under the Weather Based Crop Insurance (WBCI) scheme, to protect him from crop loss due to unseasonal rains, hailstorm and other vagaries of nature.
The WBCI is part of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), and it is extended to farmers who cultivate horticultural crops. The norms for WBCI, such as the amount of premium and the risk factors considered, are slightly different.
Last year, Deshmukh had received a total compensation of Rs 9. 44 lakh for his entire crop after it was destroyed by hailstorm. “Only 15 days remain till the beginning of the risk period for banana (when the insurance cover is activated)… it has never been this late,” he said.
But this year, Deshmukh has not been able to insure his crop yet as, he said, “the local agriculture officer said the relevant government resolution is yet to be published”.
For farmers like Deshmukh, the delay means that they might not be able to safeguard their crops, such as banana or grapes, before the risk period.
One of the first challenges for the next state government in Maharashtra will be the proper implementation of the PMFBY for the upcoming rabi season. Uncertainty looms large over the scheme as the Pune headquarters of the state Agriculture department has failed to receive sufficient number of bids from insurance companies to implement it in Maharashtra.
Implementation hampered by ‘political interference’ in state
The implementation of PMFBY in Maharashtra has been largely successful, and lakhs of farmers have availed benefits of the scheme. But alleged political interference, mainly to ensure that farmers get ‘assured’ benefits, has put a question mark over the scheme. This type of interference defeats the whole purpose of insurance and makes the scheme non-viable, say experts.
Senior officers of the state Agriculture department say most insurance companies are not ready to take part in
the scheme as they fear political interference in its implementation.
A flagship programme of the central government, the majority of PMFBY premiums are paid jointly by central and state governments, while farmers only pay 2 per cent of the amount. The state is divided into four clusters and bids are invited from both public sector and private insurance companies to implement the scheme.
For 2018-19, 139.98 lakh farmers had insured 83.27 lakh hectares of their land for both kharif and rabi seasons. The total premium collected was Rs 4,778.33 crore and the compensation paid was Rs 3,730.52 crore.
While 126.47 lakh farmers had taken the insurance cover for kharif season, the Agriculture department is in a fix about the scheme’s implementation in the upcoming rabi season, as it has failed to get sufficient bids from insurance companies.
Under WBCI, the tender for rabi season was floated on August 31 but it had to be extended till September 16 as not enough bids were received. When the extension also failed to get the required number of bids, the department refloated the tenders on September 30. The final extension for the scheme expired on Thursday.
Similarly, for the PMFBY, the first tender was floated on September 6 and it was extended till September 26, but neither effort received sufficient number of bids. The final extension of the tender expires on October 22.
Agriculture Commissioner Suhas Diwase said they were working on the matter.
Senior officers of the Agriculture department, however, said political interference and pressure from farmers’ groups have made insurance companies wary about participating in the scheme. Farmers’ groups have also repeatedly raised objections about the scheme and insurance companies had faced allegations of corrupt practices. “There are instances of non-insurable interests, people who don’t have land opt for insurance… this puts the feasibility of the scheme at risk,” said an officer.