MULTAN  -    Torrential rain, hailstorm and gusty winds destroyed wheat crop over 39,000 acres in southern Punjab this week, say the latest estimates.

An initial damage estimate made by the agriculture department shows that Multan Division is the most-affected area in southern Punjab where rain destroyed wheat and other crops on 27,000 acres. Corps over 7,000 acres were destroyed in Dera Ghazi Khan Division and 5,000 acres in Bahawalpur Division.

Wheat has been sown over 6.59 million acres in southern Punjab and the target for this year stands at 7.5 million tonnes. Initially, the agriculture department had anticipated a bumper wheat crop in southern Punjab but the recent rain made it impossible for the southern region to achieve the target.

Talking to The Nation, Naveed Asmat Kahloon, assistant director for agricultural information in the Multan Region, said that rain badly hit Multan, Muzaffargarh, Khanewal, Vehari, Mailsi, Rahim Yar Khan, Rajanpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar, Jhang, Toba Tek Singh, Taunsa and adjoining areas. He said the initial estimate revealed that crops over 39,000 acres have been destroyed.

Malik Mubashir, a wheat grower from Qadirpur Rawan area in Multan, said that rain left him bankrupt. “We’ve lost everything. Either the crop is completely destroyed by the hailstorm or heavy rain and wind caused the plants flatten on the ground,” he explained in a state of grief. He pointed out that wheat was also attacked by yellow rust in many areas due to cold weather. “If in some areas the crop has sustained the rain, it faced another menace. It came under yellow rust attack,” he said.

Khalid Khan, another wheat grower from the Muzaffargarh area, demanded that the government waive water tax, write off agricultural loans of farmers and declare southern Punjab a calamity-hit area. “We borrow money from banks to sow crops. We do a lot of labour and spend entire of our belongings on the sowing. The rain washed away everything. We demand loan and free seed for the next sowing,” he said.

Kahloon told this scribe that the damage assessment had almost been done and reports were being sent to the government. “Yes, the government has received proposals to offer relief package to farmers to compensate for their loss,” he confirmed when asked if farmers would get any relief package from the government. He said the government may declare the area calamity hit.