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Low compensation driving farmers to suicide a reality: SC

Low compensation driving farmers to suicide a reality: SC
It is a reality that low compensation paid to calamity-hit farmers is leading some of them to commit suicide, the Supreme Court observed on  Wednesday.

“This is a reality. It needs to be corrected. It’s not against one government or other government. The Central government always says they are doing good things, but some people are committing suicide, we all know that,” a Bench, headed by Justice MB Lokur, said.

The Bench, also comprising Justice NV Ramana, made the observation, while examining various aspects of relief given to drought-hit farmers during a hearing on a PIL that seeks urgent implementation of guidelines for areas hit by natural calamity.

Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, who refuted the allegations on behalf of the Centre, said there was no “arbitrariness” in deciding compensation for crop losses. “There is no arbitrariness and the Centre has framed guidelines for the distribution of compensation to the drought-hit farmers,” she said.

Advocate Prashant Bhushan appearing for petitioner NGO Swaraj Abhiyan alleged arbitrariness on the part of the patwaris (officials who maintain land records) in calculating the compensation for the crop loss.

Psephologist and political activist Yogendra Yadav, a key functionary of the NGO, informed the court that there have been instances, where two brothers having adjoining land with same dimension and having suffered similar crop loss due to a natural calamity, getting differential compensation. While one brother gets Rs 16,000 as compensation, the other gets a meager Rs 160 for the same kind of loss, he claimed. The recently-launched flagship scheme of the NDA government ‘Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana’ also came up for discussion, with the Bench asking the petitioner whether it could be relevant in such a situation and whether it could be beneficial to farmers hit by drought.

Bhushan said a similar scheme was launched in Chhattisgarh, but alleged that it appeared to him as a big scam as farmers were not given the benefit. Yadav claimed that the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana was a merger of two old schemes and there was “nothing new” in it. The farmers could get its benefits only if the natural calamity affected their entire panchayat or block or district and not in individual cases, he said.

The court clarified that although this discussion on the scheme has nothing to do with the case, it was just checking whether it could be beneficial in such situations. Bhushan said as per the Centre’s drought manual, for crop loss in irrigated land Rs 13,500 is paid per hectare and for non-irrigated land the compensation is Rs 6,500.

The Bench then asked how this figure of compensation is arrived at and how is it calculated and observed that in some instances of calamities, the compensation paid to the farmers was very less, even Rs 100 or Rs 200.

Bhushan said all this happens as the patwari, sent to analyse crop losses in rural areas, carries out the assessment at his/her own discretion. “Some expert body needs to be appointed to assess the crop losses and this should not be left to the arbitrariness of the patwaris,” he said.

The Bench also took note of the fact that many a time the State Disaster Relief Fund (SDRF) remained unutilised in a particular fiscal and asked whether the fund could be diverted to MNREGA in drought-hit areas.

“If the SDRF fund remains unutilised in the month of March, then before it lapses, it can be diverted to MNREGA to create employment in drought-hit areas,” the Bench said.

It also asked whether courts can direct the state to declare a particular area as drought-hit. “There are instances when politicians or ministers visit the natural calamity-hit areas and announce some freebies. It is a routine thing, whatever the motive is. Can the court tell states to declare particular area as drought-hit on (the basis of) certain parameters?” the Bench said.

The hearing remained inconclusive and will continue on Thursday.

On March 15, the Apex Court had asked the Centre to file its reply on a plea, seeking all states to ensure food security for drought-affected rural populace till the end of calamity or for six months. 

The NGO, in its revised prayer, has sought a direction to Centre to abide by the provisions of the MNREGA Act and use it for employment generation in drought-affected areas. The PIL filed by the NGO has alleged that parts of 12 states of UP, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Haryana and Chattisgarh were hit by drought and the authorities were not providing adequate relief.
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