IMD decides to shut down all 199 district agromet units across country
NEW DELHI — The India Meteorological Department has decided to discontinue the services of the 199 district agromet units that provide crucial and detailed weather-related advisories to lakhs of farmers at the block level, helping them reduce crop losses and increase income.
In an order issued on January 17, the IMD said the services of the district agromet units (DAMU) will not be extended beyond the current financial year (2023-2024).
“Therefore, you are requested to kindly take necessary action for discontinuation of services of district agromet units (DAMUs) and winding up the existing 199 DAMUs,” the order said.
According to the minutes of the Expenditure Finance Committee (Finance Ministry) meeting held in February last year, a senior advisor of Niti Aayog had advised reevaluation of the “necessity of providing staff at each DAMU”.
The official suggested the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) may have “centralised units instead of field units as the collection of data is automated”.
The decision will directly impact thousands of farmers in these 199 districts in 32 states and Union Territories, according to the staff working at the units.
Scientists in the agriculture ministry have also acknowledged DAMUs’ contribution to building climate resilience within the farming community and mentioned that the impact of discontinuing DAMU services will be more pronounced in the short term.
In 2015, the government launched the Gramin Krishi Mausam Seva (GMSV) to provide crop and location-specific detailed advisories to farmers, aiding them in day-to-day decision-making.
A total of 130 agromet field units (AMFUs) have been set up in agro-climatic zones in the country over the years in collaboration with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). AMFUs provide advisories at the zonal level, each catering to four to five districts.
In 2018, the government decided to extend the reach of GMSV by setting up 530 district agromet units on the premises of Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVK). However, the Covid pandemic impacted the process, and only 199 DAMUs could be set up. Each DAMU has two employees SMS Agromet and Agromet Observer.
“Compared to AMFUs, DAMUs provide block-level agromet advisories. It is like a regional newspaper that provides local news in detail. DAMUs reduced the communication gap between farmers and scientists. Farmers call us directly or post their queries on a WhatsApp group. We are available 24/7,” said Mahesh Yadulwar, a DAMU employee from Maharashtra.
The decision to wind up DAMUs will not only affect the families of their 398 employees across the country but also lakhs of farmers dependent on them for crucial agromet advisories, which have helped increase their resilience against worsening weather and climate impacts, consequently reducing their losses and the claim amount under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, he said.
Officials mentioned that financial issues, including those related to the disbursement of salaries, have impacted the initiative, resulting in complaints and representations by DAMU employees to the MoES and finance and agriculture ministries.
“The data collection is automated. The IMD analyses it and prepares forecasts centrally; DAMUs only disseminate advisories. The agriculture ministry is responsible for dissemination work, and therefore, it should be the nodal ministry,” a MoES official said on condition of anonymity.
A DAMU employee from Bihar said, “We customise the forecasts based on historical data, do ground validation, and connect with the farmers directly. How can you ascertain the crop health sitting in central or zonal offices? Details related to soil moisture, and pest attacks, can be collected only if we go to the fields.”
“In the era of climate change, such a move has the potential to adversely impact the livelihoods of farmers and lead to a reduction in crop production and income with the increasing cost of cultivation due to the non-availability of DAMU services,” the Maharashtra-based Agrometeorological Units Association wrote to the IMD, ICAR, MoES, and agriculture ministry on January 20.
An official in the agriculture ministry said it was a pilot project scheduled to run until 2026.
“Now, the IMD decided to close it down. However, the ICAR has issued an order regarding the continuation of the services. The KVK staff will take forward the process of issuing agromet advisories,” the official said.
The issue is that KVKs have limited staff, and the added responsibility will increase their workload, ultimately affecting the entire process, Yadulwar said.
G V Ramanjaneyulu, an agricultural scientist with the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture, said the difficulty arose because a parallel system was created instead of integrating the existing systems.
A solution could be training people in farmer producer organisations and gram panchayats, he said.