Disaster fund for cold wave

Decision likely after Madhya Pradesh incurred huge crop losses in January

By Jyotika Sood
Published: Thursday 30 June 2011

imageALARMED by the changing climatic patterns, the Centre is likely to include either cold wave or frost in the disaster relief fund. At present, compensation under the National Disaster Response Fund and State Disaster Response Fund can be given to victims of natural calamities like cyclone, drought, earthquake, tsunami and pest attack.

Sources at the Ministry of Home Affairs say a Group of Ministers (GoM), headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, is discussing inclusion of cold wave or frost as a natural calamity eligible for relief in the disaster fund at the national and state levels. For this, an amendment has to be moved in Parliament, says an official in the home ministry. The discussion started following a request by Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

Madhya Pradesh was adversely affected by frost in January this year. The Union ministry of agriculture and the Planning Commission have supported the move.

In Madhya Pradesh, extreme cold weather destroyed standing rabi crops, like arhar (pigeon pea), chana (chick pea), masoor (lentil), peas, wheat and vegetables, on 3.6 million hectares. It affected about 3.5 million farmers in 46 districts (see ‘Bitter harvest: farmers kill selves’, Down To Earth, February 1-15, 2011). The state has disbursed about Rs 1,395 crore as compensation till May. Chouhan said the state borrowed Rs 377 crore from public sector units to put together Rs 1,395 crore.

Chouhan has held several meetings with the prime minister and the GoM members, the latest being on May 26. Besides urging for inclusion of cold wave or frost in the relief fund, the chief minister asked for reimbursement of Rs 1,395 crore as additional Central assistance.

Chouhan said the GoM has agreed in-principle to both the demands. It will also constitute a team of scientists and specialists to assess damage caused by frost in Madhya Pradesh.

According to D B Dubey, director of Indian Meteorological Department, Bhopal, frost is a natural calamity and mostly affects crops. “It does not allow farmers to take sufficient preventive measures,” says Dubey. The cold wave conditions over Madhya Pradesh were so severe that records of minimum temperatures were broken at several places, he adds. For instance, Rewa district recorded -1.2°C, the lowest in 54 years; Umaria district recorded -0.2°C, the lowest in 78 years; and Bhopal recorded 2.3°C, the lowest in 33 years.

The calamity was caused by dry and chill winds from north India over Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh as a result of western disturbances, Dubey explains. The anticylonic circulation in lower levels over Afghanistan and Pakistan accelerated the chill winds towards the three states.

Farmers do not even have an option of insuring crops from such a weather since the National Crop Insurance Scheme does not cover extreme “heat and cold wave” conditions.

Old demand

For the past five years, a debate is on to include “heat and cold wave or frost” under calamities covered by the disaster response fund. Rajasthan and Uttarakhand have been demanding inclusion of the two as natural calamities. But the 13th Finance Commission rejected the demands.

The Indian Council of Agricultural Research had recommended that “heat and cold wave” should be treated as natural calamities. The National Institute of Disaster Management in its 2009 study report, commissioned by the 13th Finance Commission, had stated that climate change would make extreme weather conditions a potential threat to life in the years to come. “The commission may therefore consider to include ‘heat and cold wave’ as a disaster, but... to qualify for a disaster ‘heat and cold wave’ must be abnormal in nature, which is higher than the highest recorded in a region during the past 20 years,” it stated.

The finance commission overlooked the recommendation.

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