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regular-article-logo Saturday, 18 May 2024

'The government doesn't care': PM insurance rubs salt into crop-loss wound

'The scheme was started to get the farmers’ votes. There’s no transparency and the government doesn’t care'

Basant Kumar Mohanty Seloo (Maharashtra) Published 23.04.24, 05:12 AM
Shrikant Bhandwalkar, a farmer from Mohi village in the Seloo block in Wardha district, complains about declining yield because of new types of insects.

Shrikant Bhandwalkar, a farmer from Mohi village in the Seloo block in Wardha district, complains about declining yield because of new types of insects. Basant Kumar Mohanty.

Nitin Ravindra Nighade, 40, a farmer from Hingni village in Seloo tehsil of Maharashtra’s Wardha district, saw his cotton, soybean and tur dal crops destroyed by heavy rain last September.

A few months earlier, his family had registered for the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) by paying Re 1.

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After the crop losses across his five-acre farmland, Nighade was confident about getting the insured sum of around Rs 1.2 lakh. He says he called the helpline number of the insurance company, ICICI Lombard, immediately.

After at least 15 visits to offices of the tehsil, Wardha collector and the insurance company, Nighade said, he was told his complaint had not been registered within the stipulated 72 hours. He was, therefore, ineligible for the benefit.

“In the policy document, they did not mention anything about 72 hours. No separate guidelines were provided, either. I asked them the reference time for calculating 72 hours; they could not tell me. I feel cheated,” Nighade said.

Nitin Ravindra Nighade.

Nitin Ravindra Nighade. Basant Kumar Mohanty.

The Centre launched the PMFBY in 2016 with the support of the states. The farmers had to pay 2 per cent of the premium for Kharif food and oilseed crops and 1.5 per cent for Rabi crops, with the state and the Centre splitting the rest of the premium payment equally.

Last May, the Maharashtra government decided to pay the farmers’ 2 or 1.5 per cent share too. The farmer had just to pay Re 1.

Vijay Dekate of the same village — who had sown his cotton, soybean and tur dal on six acres a few weeks before Nighade — suffered crop losses because of a 21-day gap in rain last August. He called the ICICI Lombard helpline and was assured a visit by officials.

“Nobody came. When I enquired, ICICI Lombard said the claim had not been registered within 72 hours of the crop loss. I had called their number immediately after seeing the crop damage,” Dekate said.

Vijay Dekate

Vijay Dekate Basant Kumar Mohanty

Ganesh Mahakalkar from Amla village in Wardha tehsil, too, said he had suffered crop losses from heavy rain and received no money from the insurance company.

“I called the helpline. They promised to send surveyors. But nothing happened,” Mahakalkar said. “The scheme was started to get the farmers’ votes. There’s no transparency and the government doesn’t care.”

ICICI Lombard is the appointed insurer under the PMFBY for two districts — Nagpur and Wardha — in the perennially farm-crisis-hit, 11-district Vidarbha region of Maharashtra.

Farmers from the Amravati, Buldhana and Yavatmal districts of Vidarbha made similar allegations — either the helpline of their districts’ designated insurer did not work, or the claim was not registered or processed after the calls were received.

Nighade said less than 10 farmers from his panchayat may have got their complaints registered successfully.

Responding to the allegations, an ICICI Lombard spokesperson wrote to this newspaper in an email: “Farmers can avail of multiple channels to lodge claim intimations such as Crop Moblie App of Government, agriculture department offices, banks, insurance company toll free no. and PMFBY facilitation centers.

“As regards in the rare event of any missed call to our toll free, the company has a diligent process of intimating the concerned farmers via an SMS whereby the official Crop Mobile App link is provided for lodging any claim intimations. The Company has dedicated resources to ensure efficient handling of claims and constantly review the processes to streamline the settlement procedures, while maintaining the highest standards of integrity and transparency in all operations.”

The spokesperson said that from September 2021 till the end of financial year 2022-23, ICICI Lombard had settled over 15.4 lakh farmer claims. In 2023-24, the company had already settled over 5.5 lakh farmer claims and was processing many others.

In a written reply to the Rajya Sabha on February 2, 2024, agriculture minister Arjun Munda said that from 2016-17 to 2022-23, against a total premium of Rs 5,176.70 crore paid by farmers, claims of Rs 27,989.75 crore had been paid against about 407.99 lakh farmer applications in Maharashtra.

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