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Use of remote sensing satellite data for expediting the process of determining crop insurance claims is a major step forward in empowering the farmers of West Bengal

Bengal has witnessed several path-breaking agricultural movements in the past. The Singur movement and the triumphant win of farmers with their relentless endeavour to get back their lands headed by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee became a 'role model' for the world.

Now after nine years of coming to power and putting an end to 34 years' of the Left Front's rule in 2011, Banerjee took another crucial move that has come up as a major leap towards technological advancement in the state's agricultural sector. This will add another feather to Bengal's crown after winning Krishi Karman Awards six times and that too with five of them coming in consecutive succession from 2011-12.

Major success in Bengal's agriculture sector has come with the State Government's utmost priority for farmers and steps to check their losses for different reasons, mainly the damage done to crops due to inclement weather.

Now, after helping farmers get compensation for their damaged crops without paying any premium for its insurance under the 'Banglar Shashya Bima' scheme, the State Government has joined hands with National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to ensure timely payment of the same without any delay as farmers remain dependent on the amount to sow seeds for cultivation in the next season.

This will also bring about an undisputed methodology of computing the loss and assessing the quantum of compensation to be given to a farmer by reducing the chances of errors.

Playing a pivotal role as the nodal agency, the State Agriculture Department is implementing the dream project of the Chief Minister for the timely compensation of farmers in collaboration with the Agriculture Insurance Company of India by pursuing the technology-based evaluation system. This is a crucial move given the fact that crops on 10.5 lakh hectares of agricultural land were damaged due to Cyclone Amphan on May 20.

Crop insurance is an old concept. For a variety of reasons, its implementation in the State did not have much success in helping farmers until the Bengal Chief Minister had stepped in to find a solution. The first of those reasons was the inability of the marginal farmers in Bengal to take the risk of paying a premium in advance for the insurance, with a sense of loss constantly haunting them, without knowing whether there will be any calamity in a running year to damage their crops for which they would get compensation. The Chief Minister had given relief to the farmers in 2013 with the State Government's decision to pay the entire premium on their behalf. So far, more than 46 farmers have been brought under 'Banglar Shashya Bima' scheme with a target of bringing 100 per cent of the 71 lakh farmers under its coverage.

Secondly, the process of getting the compensation was also too cumbersome and farmers were not inclined to waste their time in getting themselves enrolled. There was also a very significant delay in computing the loss that needed to be compensated and there would

usually be a series of disputes related to the same. The delay and quantum of loss which determines the compensation was a major issue.

If the area affected by flood or drought is greater than 75 per cent of the normal crop sown area, then mid-season adversity claims up to 50 per cent of the sum insured would be payable.

Needless to say, the State Government was keen to find a solution so that the disputes could be removed and loss could be assessed faster. Here came the need to engage the remote sensing satellite data acquisition technology of ISRO that will be put into use for the collection of data from the Kharif season in 2020.

Comprehensive risk insurance will be provided for losses due to widespread non-preventable risks including drought, dry spells, flood, inundation, pests and diseases, landslides, natural fire and lightning, storm, hailstorm, cyclone, typhoon, tempest, hurricane and tornado.

Crop Health Factor (CHF) that will be derived from the satellite data and rainfall or weather data will form the basis to arrive at the shortfall in expected yield, if any, for determination of season-end claims.

There are four parameters that will be considered to assess the crop health based on technology. First of all, crop greenness will be measured by the Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). The index quantifies vegetation by measuring the difference between near-infrared (which vegetation strongly reflects) and red light (which vegetation absorbs). More the NDVI, higher the greenness of the crop and higher the expected yield. Chlorophyll in healthy vegetation reflects more near-infrared (NIR) and green light, compared to other wavelengths and absorbs more blue light.

Secondly, the crop wetness is measured by the Land Surface Water Index (LSWI). It indicates the total amount of liquid water in the vegetation and its soil background. The LSWI uses the short wave infrared (SWIR) and the NIR regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. More the LSWI, higher the water availability to the crop. It is also used to identify flood and inundation scenarios.

Then comes the crop structure that is measured by following backscatter ratio through synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging in which microwave pulses are transmitted by an antenna towards the earth surface. The microwave energy scattered back to the satellite is measured. The SAR makes use of the radar principle to form an image by utilising the time delay of the backscattered signals. It also helps in estimating the height and structure of the crop.

And, the rainfall data at block level measured by the existing weather stations in Bengal will also be taken into consideration. Satellite-based rainfall data from Indian Meteorological Department would be used in case of need for weather data of the past if it is not available with the weather stations.

The State Agriculture Minister Asish Banerjee said: "Following the Chief Minister's direction, we are taking all necessary steps to help our farmers get compensation for crop damage at the earliest."

A state-level committee is being set up with the Agriculture Department as the nodal agency along with a senior scientist from the Science and Technology Department, representatives of Bureau of Statistics and Evaluation and land Department as its members.

According to Pradip Majumdar, Agriculture Advisor to the Chief Minister, this is a revolutionary step towards technological advancement in the agricultural sector. It will not only help farmers get their compensation without any delay, but it will build immense confidence among farmers.

After collection and compilation of the data, ISRO will share it with the Agriculture Insurance Company of India and the Bengal Government. The State Government will be comparing the same with a report collected through the conventional ground-truthing mechanism. If there are no significant differences, barring say plus-minus three delta that is 3 per cent of deviation, either way, ISRO's report will be accepted and compensation has to be provided to the farmer's bank account through direct benefit transfer (DBT) with the intervention of the Agriculture Insurance Company of India following the advice of the State Agriculture Department.

"In a bid to gain confidence in the unseen technology, we have also kept the provision of ground-truthing as a parallel system. The traditional format of assessing the damage of crops will not be sacrificed totally and new technological methods will be adopted so that the results could be compared to convince the underwriters, the State Government and above all the beneficiaries," said a senior official of the State Government.

Left Front came to power in 1977 promising many facilities to the farmers including Operation Barga. However, in three decades the then government strengthened the hands of the middlemen. The poor farmers became poorer. After coming to power in 2011, Mamata Banerjee concentrated not only on increasing the production of rice but also to elevate the economic condition of the farmers.

Her Government has already waived the tax on agricultural land that provided an impetus to the sector, besides taking all steps to help maximum farmers get a Kishan Credit Card (KCC). So far 20 lakh farmers have received KCC in the State while a target of giving the same to another 20 lakh has been set. The direct procurement of rice by the State Government and even vegetables through the Sufal Bangla scheme, doing away with middlemen, has put an end to the system of distress sale. Even during COVID-19, the State Government introduced 'Annadatri App' using which paddy was collected by visiting door-to-door of farmers.

It was the Chief Minister's foresight that helped farmers to tide over the crisis of non-availability of workers to harvest Rabi crops during COVID-19 pandemic. The availability of state-of-the-art agri-machineries including 300 combine harvester machines, each worth around Rs 26 lakh, at 1,380 custom hiring centres across the State were used to harvest the paddy.

A series of such initiatives have not only ensured a manifold increase in the income of farmers in the State but also taken Bengal to a new height with it being the largest producer of rice in the country and bagging most awards for its effort of alternate farming engaging modern technologies.

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