An unseasonal bout of heavy rain and hailstorm has damaged the entire standing crop in northern Maharashtra, leaving farmers with no options but to take desperate steps.
Farmers in Nashik climbed on electricity poles and telephone towers to protest against what they call government apathy towards their problems.
The hailstorm comes as a double whammy for Maharashtra. A drought earlier this year had already left many farmers in Vidarbha and Marathwada reeling under debt and staring at a bleak future. Now the hailstorms have pushed farmers in northern Maharashtra to the edge as they face a similar situation.
Standing fruit and horticulture crop estimated to be worth around Rs. 5000 crore has been destroyed. Farmers claim they have lost 40 per cent of their crop but local officials claim the figure has been exaggerated.
“We have taken loans of Rs. 3-4 lakh for per acre of crop. The damage will go up and if the government sticks to its figure of 20 per cent damage then farmers will have no option but to commit suicide,” said Mehmane Lahanu, the Sarpanch of Wadner Village.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis rushed to the affected areas to take stock of the damage. Onion, pomegranate, grapes and pears are no longer usable after the second hailstorm to hit the state this year.
For the cash-strapped government this is a huge worry. After announcing a Rs. 7,000 crore package for drought hit Vidarbha and Marathwada, the state will now have to foot the bill for the damages caused by the hailstorm.
After the visit, Mr Fadnavis told reporters, “The farmers affected by the recent hailstorm will be provided a suitable compensation by the state government. We will announce a financial package in the ongoing Assembly session.”
However, the opposition seized the opportunity to launch an attack at the government. Maharashtra Navnirman Sena or MNS chief Raj Thackeray told reporters, “The government is responsible for this. In other states farmers are warned of such storms. What was our government doing? Why do they wake up after the damage is done?”
While the politicking over the issue may continue, in a state where nearly 10,000 farmers committed suicide between 2001 and 2014, the unpredictable weather has added to the uncertainty.