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Data hole looms on farm insurance
- Staff crunch halts collection of records, govt to request Delhi to relax rules

Calcutta, Dec. 19: The state government might not be able to insure lakhs of farmers this winter for lack of data required for a scheme the Centre has prescribed.

Under the Modified National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (MNAIS), gram panchayat-level crop-yield data need to be furnished, but the government has failed to collect the figures for “lack of employees”.

The state agriculture department has decided to write to the Centre requesting it to relax the norms so that the farmers, most of whom cultivate rice and potato in winter, can be insured under the MNAIS with the block-level data available with the Bengal government.

The Centre recently scrapped the National Agriculture Insurance Scheme (NAIS), under which all farmers in Bengal were covered, and proposed that the states choose from two other plans — the MNAIS and the Weather-Based Crop Insurance Scheme (WBCIS).

“The Bengal government had earlier decided against opting for the WBCIS as the state would have had to pay a higher premium. The NAIS was there till the previous (monsoon) season. Now that it has been scrapped, the state is facing trouble implementing the MNAIS for lack of crop-yield records at the gram panchayat level,” a senior state government official said.

He added that under the NAIS, block-level data were required.

According to experts, the Centre advocated the MNAIS and the WBCIS as they offer better compensation to farmers in case of crop loss.

A state agriculture department official said: “The MNAIS has a higher coverage limit than the NAIS. For example, if a farmer got Rs 10,000 under the NAIS for every acre of crop damage, he would get Rs 12,500 an acre under the MNAIS.”

“In case of the NAIS, the insurance premium was 9 per cent of the sum assured. Of this, farmers used to pay 4.5 per cent while the Centre and the state equally shared the rest of the premium. Under the MNAIS, the premium is 11 per cent, of which farmers pay 4.5 per cent and the rest is shared equally by the state and the Centre,” the official said.

The agriculture department official said the state government had “realised” that if it failed to bring the farmers under the MNAIS, “the rural economy could be affected badly in case of a natural disaster”.

“We will write to the Centre requesting it to allow us to bring the farmers under the MNAIS with the block-level crop-yield data available with us. Let’s see what the central government does,” the official said.

The winter crop season begins in November-December and continues till February-March.

Scientists in the agriculture department said crops such as potato and paddy needed to be insured as they were vulnerable to climate change.

Some agriculture department officials said the state had not been collecting panchayat-level crop-yield data for the past two years because of lack of employees.

“Each of the state’s 341 blocks should have four crop-cutting experts, who collect gram panchayat-level crop-yield data. But now, most blocks have only one such expert as the others have been engaged in duties such as managing offices and the administration,” another official said.

The officials said the Centre had informed the state early this year that it would scrap the NAIS.

“But the state did little to collect the panchayat-level data. Now, the winter season has already begun,” the official said.