Data goof-up hits Maharashtra plea for farm aid

MUMBAI: In a major embarrassment, the Maharashtra government’s plea for NDRF compensation for cotton farmers hit by pest attack has suffered a setback owing to discrepancies in data. At least 12 districts have reported more areas affected by pink bollworm than under cotton cultivation last year.

Maharashtra is the first state to seek National Disaster Relief Fund assistance for crop loss due to pest infestation; till now it was sought only citing drought. The state has sought Rs 3,337 crore aid.

The Union agriculture department has replied to the state questioning the discrepancies. For instance, in Jalna cotton was cultivated on nearly 2.8 lakh hectares last year, but damage reported on 3.7 lakh hectares. Similarly, Aurangabad reported crop loss on 4.4 lakh hectares, while less than 4.1 lakh hectares were under cultivation. Pune which had no cotton cultivation has sought compensation for pest attack on 87 hectares. As a result, the state has sought relief for pest attack on 42.07 lakh hectares, while 42.06 lakh hectares were cultivated.

“This is very embarrassing. There is no proper explanation we could give. This will definitely hamper this case as well all our future requests,” said a senior official.

While expressing concern it might reduce the chances of getting Centre’s assistance, the official also said that even if the Centre approves the application, it might not sanction the entire assistance sought by the state.

Trying to explain the discrepancies, the state has written to the Centre saying the data for area under cultivation was generated through basic eye inspection or on the basis of information received from farmers. The state said the land affected was calculated through site inspections and conducting panchnama, a more scientific way of collating data, and that the Centre should consider that while deciding on the compensation.

Sources told TOI the explanation may not help much as NDRF assistance is provided after proper procedure.

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