Unseasonal rains hit 30% of rabi acreage

Unseasonal rain and hail over much of the northern, central and western parts of the country in the first fortnight of March have taken a toll on rabi acreage, particularly that of wheat. This means wheat crop worth Rs 65,000 crore could be hit.

According to a preliminary government estimate, rabi crops on 18-18.2 million hectares, or 30 per cent of the overall 62 million hectares under the crop, have been hit by the recent spell of unseasonal rains.

Officials said the standing wheat crop on 12.1 million hectares, 40 per cent of the estimated 30.63 million hectares in 2014-15, had been affected.

With the average retail price of wheat at Rs 17 a kg, crop worth about Rs 65,000 crore is under threat, assuming production in 2014-15 is in line with the Centre’s second advance estimate of 95.76 million tonnes. The actual impact on the output will be known only after harvesting starts next month. Experts said this year’s output could be at least 30 per cent lower than the second advance estimate.

“The damage and impact estimate might be true, but my assessment shows across the country, about half the wheat crop has been damaged. The impact on (retail) inflation cannot be estimated now, as wheat is a global commodity and the government has huge reserves,” Sudhir Panwar, president of Kisan Jagriti Manch and member of the Uttar Pradesh Planning Commission, told Business Standard.

Food items hold a weight of 45 per cent in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). CPI-based inflation rose to 5.37 per cent in February from 5.19 per cent in January. Prices of green vegetables and fruit such as grapes have risen 20-30 per cent in major wholesale markets of the national capital and elsewhere in the past few days.

Panwar said the government should immediately announce a loan waiver for all the farmers affected and provide them cash compensation.

Last week, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, along with other officials, toured the areas hit by untimely rains. In an interview to a private television channel, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said unseasonal rains would have an impact on food prices.

In the first fortnight of this month, India received 49.2 ml of rain, about three times the average, data from the India Meteorological Department showed.