Letting the mouse into the fields

Karnataka’s digital drive through Samrakshane portal has made crop insurance more transparent. But there is still a long way to go

Last year, around this time, many districts in Rajasthan were hit by heavy rains, and flooded. Kailash, a 45-year old farmer from a small village in the State was heartbroken to see his soybean crop destroyed. He had insured his crops, but it turned out to be of no use.

The insurance money came very late, by which time Kailash had already borrowed from a local money lender to make arrangements for sowing for the next season. Also, what he got from the insurance firm didn’t even make up for half the loss.

The insurance money paid to farmers are based on the yield data given by the State to insurance companies. So that shouldn’t be causing any problems, isn’t it?

Farmers across the country are complaining about the crop insurance scheme Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) for its unreliable data collection process through crop cutting experiment (CCE) and delay in claim settlement. A 2017 report by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) indicated that PMFBY failed to bring timely and adequate help to farmers. It revealed that many district-/block-level Agricultural Department officials do not conduct CCEs, and do the formalities just on paper.

In Haryana, Agriculture Development officers went on strike ín September 2016 to protest against the burden of conducting massive numbers of CCEs.

The CSE report also indicated that there was a large probability of corruption because of lack of transparency in the CCE process. It reported instances of insurance companies bribing government officials to show lower crop losses to minimise claims.

However, one State has found a way around these problems — Karnataka.

Very less has so far been written about Karnataka’s ‘Samrakshane’ platform. Though there are many highlights about the e-governance portal, the one key feature is that it has put an end to manual crop cutting experiments and manual intervention in case of disputes.

BusinessLinevisited Karnataka Agriculture Department to understand the working of the portal and the success of using smart phones for CCEs.

What it is

Crop cutting experiments are conducted to estimate agricultural production.

District/subdivision-level officials from the Revenue, Economics and Statistics, or Agriculture Departments of the State government who conduct CCEs have to harvest the crop, thresh and winnow it, and finally weigh it to estimate the yield.

Across States, this is a manual, time-consuming procedure. From selection of the plot for CCE, allocation of the plot to a Primary Officer, the PO’s field visit to collect data and the manual recording, to this data being sent to the insurance company — all takes 7-8 months. Also, if the insurance company does not agree with the CCE data, there is no room for dispute redressal in this process. By then, the crop would have also been harvested.

In Karnataka, however, the entire process of CCE is done via mobile phones and there is no manual intervention. In the 2017-18 kharif season, the State conducted 90,000 CCEs through mobile phones.

The time taken to collect data has shrunk to less than two months. In the last kharif season, the State covered about 14 lakh farmers through PMFBY — which is 20 per cent of all farmers in the State.

Samrakshane portal

Samrakshane portal and mobile application were developed by the National Informatics Centre, Bengaluru. All the stakeholders — including 9,000-plus bank branches, insurance companies, CSCs (Common Service Centres that enrol non-loanee farmers in crop insurance), the State government and farmers — can use the portal.

The State Horticulture and Agriculture Department feeds into the portal all the information a farmer or stakeholder need to know about the insurance policy, the notified crops, the premium amount and the cut-off date for the premium payment.

When a farmer registers on the platform, the portal connects to UIDAI for Aadhaar verification and authentication. It also connects to Bhoomi – a database of agriculture land in the State — and ensures there is no duplication. Once enrolled, the farmer can log on to the portal any time to check the status of his/her enrolment, or get information disseminated by the State Agriculture Department. The portal also sends SMSes to farmers on any updates. The portal automatically generates a plan for CCEs. It connects to Bhoomi database, collects village and survey number data, and picks plots for each notified crop on a random basis. Since the portal also has a database of the primary workers in each jurisdiction, it allocates the selected plots to them without any intervention by a higher-level officer.

Once the CCE data is entered, the system calculates the yield per hectare and the average yield per village.

The Agriculture Department hands out a smartphone, with the NIC-developed CCE app, to every primary worker. All crop cutting experiments are captured through this mobile app, and the data is pushed instantaneously into the server along with photos, videos and GPS coordinates.

As there may not be internet connectivity everywhere, the photos and videos could be taken offline and uploaded to the server later.

But even offline, the mobile app identifies the GPS co-ordinates and marks them in the pictures. This prevents the worker from faking CCE data; he/she has to travel to his/her allocated plot and do the experiment.

The application also lets insurance companies record any objection to the CCE data uploaded by the primary worker. The companies can provide reasons for their objection through the mobile app or the portal.

This provision helps prevent any future disputes, thus enabling faster processing of claim settlement.

Samrakshane portal generates farmer-wise pay-out data based on the yield data and sends this to insurance companies, which can see them by logging on to the portal.

Last year, Ranganath, a groundnut farmer from a village in Tumkur district, Karnataka, lost his crops on 3 acres because of drought. “I got about ₹50,000 as insurance money. Some of the other farmers in the nearby area, too, got money.”

Payment

Based on the report generated by the portal, the insurance company pays the bank, and the bank sends it to the respective farmer. But since the payment happens outside of the Samrakshane platform, there is no way to check any delay in claim settlement. The Karnataka Agriculture Department intends to soon address this issue with the Centre’s help. Rajeev Chaudhary, Additional Chief Secretary, e-governance, who spearheaded the Bhoomi project and drove setting up of Samrakshane in its initial days, said: “If proposals are seen and premium agreed upon by the insurance company, and if CCEs are seen and agreed by them, then the payment should be an automatic process not involving the insurance company.”

Karnataka is faster in claim settlement than other States, but even then the whole process takes 6-8 months.

The Centre should take steps to quicken the claim settlement process by removing the discretion with the insurer to make payment to the farmer, even after the CCE data has been verified and approved.

Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, in the question hour in Lok Sabha last week, said the insurance companies that fail to clear claims of crop loss within two months, will have to repay with 12 per cent interest.

This move may push insurance companies to act fast.

The Samrakshane portal is a feat that deserves appreciation. But it still has miles to go. Efforts have to be made to promote the platform. Some farmer organisation leaders from the State, to whom BusinessLine spoke to, were not aware of the platform.

The State should conduct more awareness programmes by sharing experiences of farmers who have benefited from the scheme.

Primary agriculture officers collect yield data using mobile phones installed with CCE app, in Karnataka

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