Maharashtra: Amid rural distress, crop insurance remains a ray of hope for farmershttps://indianexpress.com/elections/maharashtra-amid-rural-distress-crop-insurance-remains-a-ray-of-hope-for-farmers-6076877/

Maharashtra: Amid rural distress, crop insurance remains a ray of hope for farmers

Maharashtra’s fairly decent record of payment is one reason for more and more farmers opting for the scheme

Maharashtra: Amid rural distress, crop insurance remains a ray of hope for farmers
For the rabi and kharif season of 2018-19, 139.98 lakh farmers had opted to insure their crops, of which 126.07 lakh were non-loanees. (Express Photo by Amit Chakravarty)

ACCESS TO credit for Maharashtra’s beleaguered agriculturists remains a wide problem as the state prepares to go to polls next week, but providing a measure of the success of the crop insurance scheme, the number of non-loanee farmers who have enrolled for the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) exceeds the number of loanee farmers.

Though there remain problems associated with the PMFBY payouts for the last year in some talukas and with regards to specific crops, for the last three years, participation by non-loanee farmers in the crop insurance scheme has outpaced that by those with agricultural loans.

The enrollment figures for the current kharif season shows that of the 1,26,47,917 farmers who have enrolled for the scheme, 1,11,64,343 — 88 per cent — are those without a bank crop loan. The gross premium collected in the state for the current season from both loanee and non-loanee farmers is Rs 2,308 crore.

Agricultural credit, however, paints a dismal picture with banks failing to meet crop loan disbursal targets. While banks blame wilful default by farmers as the cause of the crisis, apparently fuelled by promises of loan waivers being made by parties, voters in several parts of rural Maharashtra agree that payouts from the PMFBY — the flagship programme of the Centre that insures farmers against crop loss due to inclement weather — is a good safety net.

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“I have received insurance payouts in the past, so I have paid my premium this year,” said Sheshrao Eknath Munde (60) of Chardhara village in Beed’s Dharur.

There was no payment for last year’s soyabean crop though he suffered deep losses due to the drought, but that didn’t stop him from going to the village Common Service Centre to sign up online for this season’s insurance. “I filled the farm loan waiver application but my outstanding is not yet nil, so I too didn’t get a crop loan this year. But at least there’s safety in PMFBY if the crop is damaged again.”

Munde owns less than 4 acres on which he has sown soyabean and cotton this year, and paid a premium of Rs 1,600. In villages in Parbhani’s Selu taluka and Chaklamba circle of Beed’s Georai taluka, villagers have the same refrain. In Chaklamba, Machhindra Gawade said it had become apparent by July that there was a long dry spell that could damage crops, so farmers were keen to have insurance.

Asked which way the wind is blowing, all along Dharur’s hilly villages, farmers said they are traditional BJP voters and supporters of the late Gopinath Munde. “The drought, insurance payments, loan waiver — it affects everyone, but ultimately in our village, the vote is pre-decided,” said a villager from Kodas in Dharur.

The PMFBY scheme entails farmers picking up 2 per cent of the premium with the government paying the rest. The scheme is compulsory for farmers who avail of the short term credit or crop loans from banks. For non-loanee farmers it is optional.

For the rabi and kharif season of 2018-19, 139.98 lakh farmers had opted to insure their crops, of which 126.07 lakh were non-loanees. Similarly, for the financial year of 2017-18, of the 100.91 lakh farmers who insured their crops, 79.98 lakh had not availed of institutional credit.

Maharashtra’s fairly decent record of payment is one reason for more and more farmers opting for the scheme. For the 2018-19 financial year, insurance companies that had collected gross premium of Rs 4778.33 crore had paid total compensation of Rs 3,730.52 crore. The state’s record has been relatively good in other years too.

Farmers point to the low rates of premium and the cushion of compensation as top reasons for opting for the scheme. Vachist Bedke, a farmer with 4.5 acres at Rajapur village in Beed’s Georai taluka, paid around Rs 2,500 to insure his crop of soyabean (1 acre) and cotton (1 acre). Bedke, who grows sugarcane on the rest of his holding, has not defaulted in repayment of his Rs 3 lakh of crop loan in the last many years. “It hardly costs me anything but the cushion of insurance will help me in case of crop failure,” he said.

For farmers in Latur, in case of failure of their soyabean crop, the compensation assured is around Rs 43,000 per hectare, which is enough to recover their cost of production.

If farmers are actively paying to insure their crops, they are not showing the same alacrity when it comes to repaying short term crop loans. For the current kharif season, banks that were to disburse Rs 43,844.29 crore have managed to disburse only about Rs 19930.39 crore — a measly 45 per cent of the target. Disbursement under crop loans has been below expectations in the last three years.

— With inputs from Kavitha Iyer