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Cyclone relief work in Odisha: What the media missed

Nov 15, 2013

There is another side to relief carried out during the cyclone, where post cyclone disaster is slowly raising its face, writes Amitabh Patra, a journalist and filmmaker.

Amitabh Patra

While the government of Odisha trumpets its zero-casuality "Mega Rescue Operation" in the wake of cyclone Phailin, an unfolding disaster has eluded media attention.

A month after Phailin struck the coastal districts to the state's east, life has got hard for farmers in the state's West -- the damage here is not as apparent as in the coastal districts, unless one scratch's the surface to discover painful statistics.

News of farmers’ suicides as some 10 farmers resorted to this ultimate step following a bitter harvest has been splashed across newspapers in Odisha. While the cyclone did not damage the paddy crop, but it came as the crop was in its flowering stage. As a result, the flowers did not translate into grains, especially plots with crop that had freshly flowered.

Newspaper have carried reports of farmers attacking revenue offices in Western Odisha's Bargarh district, some trying to meet the district collectors of their respective area holding a sample of their failed crop in their fists. Areas where crop cutting and harvesting surveys have been done, many are indicating a 75% loss of production in the area. Some are even worse.

According to farmers the insurance policy and antiquated relief code of the state is just adding insult to injury. As per the group crop insurance policy, farmers are entitled to a compensation only if an entire panchayat is affected with over 50 per cent loss of production over a period of three years. That amounts to about Rs.4000 in canal irrigated area and Rs.2000/- for the non-irrigated, single crop area, where the expenses due to increased input costs, per hectare expenses are minimum Rs.25,000. This is too little, the farmers point out, as the costs of pesticide and chemical fertilizers have increased four-folds in past 10 years.

Farmers argue that the costs of cultivating one hectare of paddy land touches Rs 45,000 for a production season. The absense of a reasonable insurance cover is a double whammy.

As one farmer questioned, "When you have your life insurance or vehicle insurance, you get compensation for any damage to you or your vehicle. But why in agriculture, you get some claim only when your entire district or block or panchayat is affected, that too over three years?"

Farmers also complained that when they take a loan from the Primary Agricultural Cooperative Society or any bank for their forthcoming crop, they are forced to part with an insurance premium for their crop. This money, ammounting to 2.5 per cent of the entire loan amount is deducted from their loan amount, and deposited with the insurance company. This has been the practice for the past 25 years, the farmers point out.

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