Paddy grower Gurdev Singh of Zira in Punjab’s Ferozepur district was happy as the crop yield in the kharif season was healthy.
Suddenly, his desire to have a profitable crop, with an almost failure of wheat crop in the previous season, was washed away by unseasonal heavy rain in the northern food-bowl states in the past two days.
His fields were almost waterlogged with cultivators and experts saying on Sunday the downpour will be stalling harvesting with chances of crop damage and risks of pest attacks.
The damage is no different in neighbouring Haryana, a leading basmati rice exporter. Both Punjab and Haryana are among the major contributors of paddy to the Central pool.
Worried paddy growers, who were looking towards a great harvest, but the rain played spoilsport, have been demanding adequate compensation for the loss.
In the past rabi season, Punjab and Haryana wheat yields dipped by 49-45 quintals per hectare, a 20-year low. On an average, the yield fell by 20 per cent a hectare, say experts.
They say the heavy rainfall and waterlogging in fields will lead to higher moisture content in the paddy grains that could lead to lower remuneration to farmers due to the deterioration of quality of the grain.
Farmers in both the states rued the untimely rain and strong winds have flattened the standing wheat crop at most places.
The unseasonal rain also caught those farmers unawares who were unable to sell the paddy. Many farmers in Haryana stored their stocks at different mandis. They opted for early maturing paddy varieties, which had been recommended by the government as they required comparatively less water for cultivation.
“We have harvested the paddy crop well in time. Now the produce has been lying in the open in the market for the past four days owing to a strike by ‘arhtiyas’ (commission agents). After the heavy rain, most of the crop has been damaged. Owing to high moisture, there are chances of discolouring and deterioration of the grain quality,” basmati grower Jagtar Bhullar told IANS over phone from the grain market in Karnal, the home constituency of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.
He said he planted an early mature variety that was immune to humidity too. “With the poor drainage and proper infrastructure to store the produce, the market yard has literally turned into a puddle with the produce submerged under rainwater.”
At several market yards in Haryana, hundreds of gunny bags filled with paddy have been lying in the open due to the strike by the ‘arhtiyas’.
The Haryana State Arhtiyas’ Association has been on an indefinite strike since September 19. They have been demanding 2.5 per cent commission on the produce instead of Rs 46 per quintal, waiving off a four per cent market fee on the crop, besides allowing farmers from neighbouring states to sell their produce in Haryana.
A scientist at the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana told IANS that heavy rain has damaged the harvested and affected the standing paddy.
“The unexpected heavy rain has not only damaged paddy but will delay cultivation of rabi crops due to waterlogging and high moisture in fields,” he added.
The procurement of paddy in Punjab will start on October 1.
“We are wishing the skies clear up and it stops raining. The unseasonal rain and thunderstorms lashing in the past two days have battered our paddy crop that is all ready to be harvested,” said Amrik Singh standing in his fields of Samrala in Punjab.
Experts fear that if the rain continues for another day or two, the farmers will be hit really hard as their standing kharif, or summer crops, would be damaged, aggravating the food crisis.
“The crop is ready to be harvested and rain at this time has damaged plants,” said agriculturalist Ram Naresh, while pointing towards the flattened crop on the outskirts of Sonipat.
Officials said the losses could run into hundreds of crores, though the exact damage would be known only after assessment by the revenue officials across the states.
The Opposition in Punjab said the damage was widespread in Ropar, Jalandhar, Patiala, Kapurthala, and Bhatinda areas and sought compensation for the affected farmers within a stipulated time.
Highlighting the plight of farmers, Congress leader and former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has demanded compensation for the farmers. He sought a girdawari (harvest inspection) for assessment of crop damage.
“Every farmer has suffered a loss due to the damage to the standing paddy crop. Waterlogging in the fields has affected the paddy crop. The government should get the ‘girdawari’ done and give compensation to the affected farmers,” he said.
The Leader of Opposition said earlier too the farmers faced the brunt of weather. “So far the farmers have not been compensated for the damage caused due to heavy rain, hailstorm and waterlogging. Neither the government nor insurance companies come forward to help the farmers in times of distress,” he said.
With several parts witnessing flood-like situation, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Saturday directed the deputy commissioners to ensure drainage of water from the waterlogged areas at the earliest.
Punjab covered 30.84 lakh hectares, comprising 4.65 lakh hectares of highly remunerative basmati rice, under paddy sowing this season, while in Haryana the area under paddy cultivation was around 10 lakh hectares, about 23 per cent less than the previous year.
Most parts of Punjab and Haryana experienced widespread rainfall in the past two days.
The MeT officials said the widespread moderate to heavy rain could continue in the region in the next 24 hours.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)