New Delhi: The government on Thursday promised to take all administrative and relief measures to help farmers hit by unseasonal rain and hailstorm in North and Western India, as members across the political spectrum in Rajya Sabha sought immediate financial assistance and loan waivers for them.
Acknowledging the unanimous voice on the issue, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government would act "with compassion and without going into technicalities" of the matter.
He informed the House that the Agriculture Minister has constituted separate teams for each state to assess the losses and all the three Ministers have started visiting the affected states from today.
His remarks came after Opposition Congress, BSP, JD-U and CPI(M) demanded that the Centre should immediately announce financial assistance, assess the extent of damage to crops and wave interest on loans of distressed farmers.
KC Tyagi (JD-U), who initiated the discussion, said though crops worth Rs 22,000 crore has been lost in the natural fury, the insurance companies were assessing crop loss at no more than Rs 1,000 crore.
Former agriculture minister Sharad Pawar (NCP) spoke at length on the damage to crops from drought, unseasonal rain and hailstorm and asked Centre to chip in with more help and waive short-term loans particularly crop loan as well as the interest on loans for purchase of agriculture equipment.
Members from Treasury and Opposition benches alike thumped desks endorsing views of Pawar, who also expressed concern over falling purchase prices of cotton and sugarcane.
Vijay Goel (BJP) said that since all MPs have expressed concern over the plight of farmers, they should agree to give a month's salary to meet the challenge as has been done by MLAs from Rajasthan.
Jaitley said the government has full sympathy with the farmers in this hour of natural crisis and the Centre would take all possible steps.
He said several MPs and state governments have sent letters to the Centre regarding the damage to crops in their respective areas, but the assessment of losses has not been done in all states so far.
Noting that all parties have carried forward the issue raised by Tyagi in one voice, Jaitley said he would apprise the concerned minister of the sentiments of the House.
Pawar said fruits like orange, mango and grapes, which are cultivated only once a year, have been completely damaged pointing out that their cultivation needed much more investment than others.
He said the price of cotton fallen from around Rs 5800 per quintal to Rs 3000 while that of sugarcane from Rs 250 a quintal to Rs 150.
The NCP chief also rued that the Food Corporation of India was not procuring the entire foodgrain produce of farmers in Madhya Pradesh, which now makes maximum export of wheat replacing Punjab.
Ghulam Nabi Azad (Congress) said standing crops in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat and Maharashtra have been destroyed.
He demanded fair assessment of the crop loss and corruption-free and fair distribution of compensation. Besides, a financial package for farmers needs to be announced at the earliest, he said.
Sitaram Yechury (CPI-M) said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had claimed he was lucky for the country as international oil prices had slumped in second half of 2014. But now the country faced an agrarian crisis.
While sugar mills were running an outstanding of Rs 17,000 crore in payments to farmers, 10 potato growers in West Bengal have committed suicide because of crop failure.
Farmers in Nasik, the biggest onion market, were getting only Rs 2.50 per kg for the best quality onions against Rs 11 they got previously, Yechury said while elaborating on the agrarian crisis.
He asked the government about the BJP's promise of giving one-and-half-times of cost as minimum support price for crops and sought emergency measures including relief and loan waiver to the distressed farmers.
The CPI(M) leader also said that the share of agriculture in the GDP has fallen to just 13 percent.
Earlier several members in Rajya Sabha had given notice under rule 267 for suspension of business to take up the issue of crop losses due to unseasonal rains and hailstorm, with Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien allowing the discussion.
Mayawati (BSP) said besides the crop loss due to unseasonal rains and hailstorm, farmers were faced with another problem of the proposal to amend the Land Acquisition Act to "dilute" the provisions of the 2013 law.
"The amendment is not in the interest of farmers. BSP is against this amendment, the entire Opposition is against it," she said, demanding that the amendment, passed by Lok Sabha and awaiting the Upper House nod, should be withdrawn.
She said three-fourths of standing crop has been destroyed and farmers were being driven to suicide. An all-party committee, she said, should be formed to assess the damage and provide compensation to farmers after consulting the Chief Ministers.
Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) said rain and hailstorm has affected most states in northern and western India and, on top of it, the farmers have not been getting fair prices for their crop.
He reminded BJP of its poll promise of giving farmers a rate equivalent to one-and-half times of the actual cost of production and said seven farmers have either died of heart attack or suicide due to the high losses they faced.
Linking the issue of farmers to the setting up of Cauvery Management Board, Navneeth Krishnan (AIADMK) said the Centre was not acting on it even after the Cauvery Tribunal has mandated its Constitution.
Bhupendra Yadav (BJP) said the situation facing the farmers was a national crisis, while Baishnab Parida (BJD) suggested formation of an all-party committee on the issue.
Kanimozhi (DMK) raised concerns over constant decline in yields from farms, while Sukhendu Sekhar Roy (Trinamool Congress) sought financial support from Centre to West Bengal and other states to help the farmers.
Sanjay Raut (Shiv Sena) demanded stoppage of recovery of bank loans from farmers as they were in distress. He also wanted their power bills to be waived and no fees be charged from their children studying in schools.
Digvijay Singh (Congress) rued that farmers in Madhya Pradesh were not being given even the money of crop insurance for the previous financial years.
Pramod Tewari (Congress) demanded a special package for Uttar Pradesh, to which Jaitley said the state was given Rs 770 crore last year and would be given money in the same proportion this time as well, keeping in mind the recent hailstorm there.