Off to a poor start
The first batch of farmers insured under PMFBY last year are still struggling to settle their claims
IT HAS been more than a year-long chase for Ramnivas, who believed Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he introduced the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (pmfby) as the “solution to problems the farmers face” in April 2016. “I had heard the speech days after I had lost my entire wheat crop due to unseasonal rains,” says the young farmer from Kohla village in Sonipat district of Haryana. Excited, he immediately visited the bank to inquire about the scheme that was started in the kharif season of 2016. He later enrolled for the scheme when he took a loan for growing paddy in his 4-hectare (ha) farm. “Confident of the scheme, I was initially not worried when I lost almost 75 per cent of my paddy crop due to untimely rains during kharif 2016. I am worried now because kharif 2017 has started and I still do not know when I am getting the money,” says he.
Like Ramnivas, many farmers across the country are losing trust due to the poor implementation of the much-desired crop insurance scheme, which replaces the National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (nais) and Modified National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (mnais). Picture this: none of the farmers from Ramnivas’ village has received the insurance money. They say they have tried everything—approached the bank, lodged formal complaints with the agriculture department, and even protested—and failed.
pmfby operates on an area-based approach, where a village or an equivalent area is considered as a basic insurance unit. At the start of each cropping season, the state government is supposed to release a notification with the threshold yield of individual crops in each insurance unit, which is calculated based on the average yield of the past seven years. The notification should also mention the sum insured amount for individual crops in respective insurance units. To assess crop loss, a team, consisting officials from the state agriculture department and the local insurance company, should visit four fields, randomly selected using a sampling
method, and conduct crop cutting experiments (cce), where a small portion of the field is identified and the crop in that area is harvested to ascertain the yield of that season. Depending on their assessment, all farmers enrolled under the scheme in the insurance unit will either get the compensation or not. The scheme has three levels of indemnity (protection against a loss)—70, 80 and 90 per cent.
None of the farmers Down To Earth spoke to was aware of how the scheme operated, which highlights the poor awareness levels. After learning about the process, farmers started inquiring among themselves if any farm was visited by agriculture department officials recently. They even took out the list of the farms that government records claim were visited in the village. Surprisingly, the farmers on the list said officials only visited their farm during the cropping season and spoke to them to approximate the estimated crop yields. But not a single official visited at the time of harvesting to carry out the mandatory cce. “Much before the harvesting season, an agriculture department official asked about the estimated paddy yield in my field. He made me sign some papers and said he will return during the harvesting season. But no one came,” says Sandeep Singh, one of the farmers from the Kohla village whose farm was in the list of cce. In kharif 2016, Sandeep had sown paddy crop in three ha land for which he had taken a loan of `3 lakh. As opposed to the average 55 quintals per ha of paddy he normally receives, this season, he managed just 10 quintals per ha. “In kharif 2016, I incurred a loss of `2.97 lakh. I will not get a rupee because the local officials did not visit during the harvesting period,” says he.
“Farmers in almost all the villages in Gohana have confirmed cces were not conducted during the harvesting period. Officials simply ask the yield of the crops from some farmers instead of conducting the actual experiments in the field,” says Satyawan Narwal, a farmer leader from Sonipat district. A Haryana agriculture department official also confirmed that the mandatory cces were not carried out at some places because the scheme had increased the department’s workload. His claim was verified by an insurance company official who said approximately 3,500 cces have to be carried out in a Haryana district for the complete coverage, but only 40-50 per cent are being conducted on the ground. “During the peak crop harvesting period of 10-12 days, 200-300 cces have to be carried out every day in each district. This requires huge manpower, which is not available,” says the insurance company official. In fact, of-
ficials in the Haryana agriculture development department had gone on strike to protest against the burden on them to conduct massive numbers of cces in September 2016. The agriculture department official says the department has even tried hiring people on contract to conduct cce during the peak season, but it did not work because most of them did not have smartphones that are mandatory for the filming of cces, as per the guidelines.
Even the recently released Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana: An Assessment report by Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (cse) says insurance companies lack the manpower and infrastructure to effectively carry out the scheme in rural areas. Insurance companies, especially private companies, have no functional office in tehsils and no agents are deployed at the block level, despite provision for it under the scheme. The report says that cases have been found across the country where the insurance company did not investigate the losses and therefore did not pay for the claims. Highlighting the casual approach of the officials, the report says in droughthit Tamil Nadu, cces were conducted at the block or district level instead of the revenue village level for kharif 2016. No wonder, 14 of the 21 states had unsettled claim cases till April 2017, even though all claims should have been settled within three weeks after January 31, 2017—the date of receiving cce yield data by insurance companies. In fact, over 68 per cent of the total claims had not been settled till April 2017 (see ‘Low on benefits’, p38).
Brothers Deepak and Sachin from the Garhi Pukhta village in Uttar Pradesh’s Shamli district highlight another problem when they say that while the premium is collected by the bank officials, claims are handled by the insurance company. The brothers lost 90 per cent of their paddy crop in kharif 2016. “No body from the insurance company ever visited our village and we could not even get through to the insurance company,” says Deepak. Farmers from the village also say that a person had recently visited them and collected `1,000 each from all the affected farmers on the promise of getting the insurance money. The cse analysis says, “There seems to be a clear lack of coordination between banks, insurance companies and nodal government departments. There is also poor coordination regarding grievance redressal.” The pmfby guidelines say every insurance company should have a grievance redressal system including a helpline number. “But these systems are nonexistent at the local level. Currently, it is very unlikely that majority of farmers will be able to file complaints in case of any grievances,” says the report.
Farmers also allege that banks have insured crops that are different from the crops they have actually grown on their field. Sandeep Malik, sarpanch of Chhichdana village of Sonipat, says most farmers in his village had sugarcane crop in their
Sandeep Singh, whose farm in Haryana's Kohla village was identified for crop cutting experiments used for deciding the compensation for the village, says officials never visited his farm to conduct the experiment