Climate Change · Maharashtra

Maharashtra farmers face impacts of hailstorms and State’s “Inaction” Plan on Climate Change

Marathwada, Vidarbha, Northern Maharashtra and parts of Western Maharashtra are reeling under unprecedented hail storms and unseasonal rainfall. Hailstorms in end of February 2014, initially thought of as a one-off phenomenon, continue to batter places like Solapur for nearly two weeks now, absolutely destroying the farmer. Rabi crops like Wheat, Harbhara, Cotton, Jowar, summer onion are lost, horticultural crops like Papaya, sweet lime, grapes are battered and orchards which took years to grow are ridden to the ground. For many farmers the tragedy is unbearable as majority of crops were about to be harvested. Turmeric was drying in the sun, grapes were waiting to be graded, wheat was harvested and lying in the fields.

Hail in drought-prone Baramati. Photo from : eSakal
Hail in drought-prone Baramati. Photo from : eSakal

According to a preliminary estimate and news reports, crops over 12 lakh hectares have been severely affected, thousands of livestock, animals and birds have succumbed to injuries and diseases, which threaten to spread. Around 21 people have lost their lives to the disaster.[1]

Grapes destroyed. Photo from : Loksatta
Grapes destroyed. Photo from : Loksatta
Destruction in Latur Photo from: Dainik Ekmat
Destruction in Latur Photo from: Dainik Ekmat
Hailstorms Photo from : eSakal
Hailstorms Photo from : eSakal

The hailstorms developed as a response to hot, damp air from Bay of Bengal as well as Arabian Sea, rising and meeting the cold air coming south from the Himalayas, which led to formation of huge hail. This, though, is a very preliminary understanding of the phenomenon and hopefully, a clearer picture will arise in some time.

According to news reports, Madha Taluka in Solapur alone received 208 mm rainfall, Kurduwadi received 154.1 mm rainfall and Pandharpur received 63.95 mm rainfall in a single day[2].

SANDRP compared this rainfall with the 1901-2002 district wise rainfall dataset of IMD available at India Water Portal. 208 mm rainfall in Madha in March 2014 is 771.79% higher than the highest recorded monthly district rainfall for Solapur District for the entire month of March in the 100 years between 1901-2002! The highest total recorded rainfall of March for the district was 26.95 mm in 1915 [3]. Similarly, 65 mm rainfall received by Ausa Taluka in Latur[4] is 146 % higher than the highest 100 year recorded March rainfall of the district in 1944. Similar is the case with Parbhani, Akola, Wardha, etc.

While district rainfall masks extreme spikes due to averaging and also due to the distribution and location of rain gauges, this is truly unprecedented.

But is it also truly unexpected?

Is Climate Change an unknown phenomenon to us? IPCC[5] has predicted that in peninsular India, rainfall patterns will become more and more erratic, with a possible decrease in overall rainfall, but an increase in extreme weather events. What we are witnessing is certainly an extreme weather event.

That climate change is happening and that the reasons are anthropological is beyond debate[6]. Unfortunately, Climate change, its scientific status, its impacts, adaptation and mitigation strategies to cope with the changing climate do not enter discussions in functioning of Maharashtra government with any seriousness. Being a fuzzy, global phenomenon, linking climate change to singular events is difficult, though climate scientists are unanimous that there is footprint of climate change in each such extreme weather event.

The complexity of this issue does not allow us to brush the issue under the carpet. In the recent floods of United Kingdom, the issue of climate change was debated and led to serious discussions between researchers, climate scientists, politicians and policymakers and it seems that it will lead to an action plan.[7],[8]

Significantly, there are studies that claim that Marathwada and other regions of Maharashtra are vulnerable to Climate Change. In a 2012 paper by ICRISAT “Vulnerability to Climate Change: Adaptation Strategies and Layers of Resilience” (2009-2012) by Naveen Singh et al, which was highlighted in the latest edition of Adhunik Kisan, a Marathi magazine on agriculture, the authors have warned that Semi-Arid Tropics (SAT) in Maharashtra (as also the country) are specifically vulnerable to Climate Change. Their analysis of Maharashtra has shown that Marathwada and parts of Vidarbha are particularly vulnerable to climate change challenges, which include increase in the incidence of extreme weather events. Vulnerability index depends not only on the changing climate, but also on the vulnerability of the communities in the region: Despite hundreds of dams, agriculture in Marathwada region is mostly rain-fed, miniscule area which is irrigated appropriates all the water and grows sugarcane: a crop fundamentally unsuitable for a drought prone region, making the lesser endowed communities more and more vulnerable to challenges posed by climate changes or even small natural oscillations in the weather. This was seen very starkly in 2012-13 drought, when the region had highest area under sugarcane in Maharashtra, but several villages did not have water for drinking and dams became pawns at the hands of politicians-cum-sugar kings of the region.[9]

The ICRISAT Paper says, “In the SAT region, [10]Rainfall variability over the years is the major cause of yield uncertainty and makes rain-fed agriculture one of the risky enterprises in SAT India.

In SAT region of Maharashtra, long-term climatic analysis undertaken by ICRISAT shows “an average rise of 0.02°C per year in annual temperature in the last 40 years. In addition, the mean surface air temperature is projected to rise by 1.7-2.0°C by 2030 and 3.4-4.5°C by 2080 from the 1960-1990 . According to simulation studies, there can be productivity losses from 5% to 18% from 2030 to 2080 if no effective mitigation measures are undertaken. Differential degree of drought together with unpredictable rainfall variability has become common. This situation makes it difficult for the farmer to take pre-emptive decisions, resulting in crop and economic loss. Everyone is affected by this sudden change in weather. However, the extent of damage caused will be dependent upon each one’s ability to cope with the deleterious effects. The evidence, although incomplete, is indicative of major changes in the climatic conditions at macro levels. However, this masks the situation and variance at the local level. Greater vulnerability at the local levels implies greater pressure at the state and national level governance systems to respond to prevent the spillover effects such as urban migration, socio-political instability and conflicts, national poverty indicators, increased demands on disaster response systems, depletion of food and fodder production, etc.” However, there is no mention of increasing coping capacity of the vulnerable and compensating those who lose and demanding that those who are responsible (High consumption sections of the world and India) pay for these impacts in this long list.

According to an undated report ‘Climate change in Maharashtra’[11] brought out by Met Office (Hadley Centre, UK), TERI and Government of Maharashtra:

  • “Increased temperatures and altered seasonal precipitation        patterns (both in amount and timing) could affect the hydrological systems and agricultural productivity.
  • Increased risk of severe weather events may have a      devastating impact on agriculture, water resources, forestry and the well-being of the population.
  • TERI states that due to changing climate, Sugarcane yield in Maharashtra could go down by 30%

 When all this is known, what is Maharashtra’s response to these predictions and the looming challenge of Climate change?

 The National Action Plan on Climate Change was made public in June 2008 amidst huge fan fare by PM Manmohan Singh.[12] It was mandated that states will come up with State Action Plans for Climate Change by 31st March 2011. These State Action Plans would outline the vulnerability of the state as whole as well as specific regions and specific communities in the state to Climate change and recommend a strong adaptation and mitigation plan for overcoming these challenges. Till date (11th March 2014), SAPCCs of 12 states have been submitted to the MoEF. [13]

Maharashtra Cabinet had reportedly approved a State Action Plan for Climate change prepared by its environment department on Aug 20, 2009[14], however, the Maharashtra’s Action Plan is not finalized till date. When enquired about the status of this plan, the Director in Environment Department, Government of Maharashtra told SANDRP that they had contracted the plan to TERI and TERI has not completed the task till date.

Given the gravity of the issue, the State Action Plan for Climate Change is supposed to be overseen by a High Powered Committee, whose Chairperson is the Chief Minister, with participation from ministers of Urban Development, Public Works, Transport, Agriculture, Water resource, Revenue & Forest, Energy, industry, Food, Civil Supplies & Consumer Protection Department and Education Department.[15] The agenda and minutes of meetings of this High Powered Group should have been in public domain, but none are.

A formal contract was signed between Government of Maharashtra and TERI in March 2010 and TERI was supposed to submit a complete report in two years, i.e., by March 2011. However, Maharashtra still does not have a state action plan, indicating its lack of seriousness about Climate Change and vulnerable communities.[16]

As Maharashtra continues to be battered by hailstorms, rainfall and winds, it is not useful to get into discussions of whether this is due to climate change or not. The challenges right now is to devise strategy that will help the most vulnerable sections of Maharashtra: its farmers, more than 85% of whom practice rain fed agriculture. It is time not only to seriously revamp the nearly non-existent disaster management systems, but also the weather prediction and crop insurance systems. To build resilience of farming communities, reliance cannot be put on monoculture like sugarcane which does not allow even protective irrigation to a large proportion of farmers outside the sugarcane belt.

After closely spaced events like Mumbai floods in July 2005, Phyan cyclone in 2009, 2012-13 drought, erratic monsoon rainfall and current hailstorms, Maharashtra cannot afford to drag its feet on addressing climate change challenges, organizations like WOTR are specifically working on strengthening capacities of local communities to adapt to challenges thrown by Climate change[17]. Let us hope that at least State Action Plan on Climate change is finalized, not only by the experts from far away, but with full participation of the people of Maharashtra. Similar rain induced damages are also being witnessed in the North India and scientists fear that the coming monsoon may suffer due to El Nino effect. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Fears-of-El-Nino-on-rise-may-spell-woes-for-the-economy/articleshow/31824485.cms)

In the meantime, the least that the government of Maharashtra and also the Union Government can do is to compensate the affected farmers irrespective of red tapes and Codes of conduct.

High-end consumers and polluters of India and abroad contribute to climate change, which ironically hits the poorest sections  of the society harder. This gives an added urgency to address these linked issues.

–          Parineeta Dandekar, parineeta.dandekar@gmail.com


[1] Sakal (Marathi) Newspaper, 11 March 2014

[10] The semi-arid tropics (SAT) region is characterized by highly variable, low-to-medium rainfall and poor soils, further characterized by lack of irrigation. In general, the historical average annual rainfall in the SAT is below 700 mm. In agricultural policy terms, this region is considered to be a less favored area (LFA) (ICRISAT)

[17] http://www.wotr.org/climate-change-adaptation

http://www.wotr.org/audio_visuals_english/does-it-ever-rain-time

[18] VERY TRAGIC story of how hailstorms have hit poor farmers in Marathawada in Maharashtra: http://www.livemint.com/Specials/jkcra6zQqMShlFJjzmvXeN/Death-and-despair-in-hailstormhit-Marathwada.html

[19] Maharashtra State Action Plan on Climate change: Farmers Suffer, State and consultant TERI unaffected https://sandrp.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=2529&action=edit