The Interim Budget announced on 1 February made a splash with the introduction of a cash transfer scheme, Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme, which promises income support to small and marginal farmers — a cash assistance of Rs 6,000 per year.
“If their Rs 6,000 was going to be given to us every month, then it would have benefitted the farmers to a certain extent. But what good can this amount do for a whole year?” said Chhote Lal, a farmer in Banda, Uttar Pradesh, in response to the budget that claims to prioritise the farmers. “I suppose on one hand, it is beneficial for those who have real needs, those who are uneducated. They are in any case satisfied with whatever they get,” he reasoned, however added, “But really, what can a farmer achieve with Rs 6,000 a year?” Anil, another farmer in Banda, echoed Chhote Lal’s thoughts, “We could have still adjusted our expenses if we were getting Rs 6,000 every month, but for a year, it is practically nothing.”
According to the NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2017, the average monthly expenditure of an agricultural rural household in 2015-16 was Rs 7,152. Of the 1.9 crore agricultural households in Uttar Pradesh, the average surplus income is a mere Rs 315 per month.
The income support of effectively Rs 500 a month is still a positive news for farmers like Surendra Kumar from Panna though. “According to this budget, small-scale farmers will get Rs 6,000 a year,” he said, “But if they are given the opportunity to form the government, they can even increase the amount, isn’t it?”, he asked, perhaps nailing the moot point of the strategy behind the Budget presentation. The Union Finance Minister and then Acting Finance Minister, Piyush Goyal, did state that Rs 20,000 crore was budgeted for this centrally funded scheme for 2019, while the estimates for 2020 pushed the figure up to Rs 75,000 crore. Kumar concurred, “They are the first to even take such an initiative. Any scheme is a good thing. Right now, we farmers are happy with this amount.” But even while expressing his own support for the NDA government, Kumar couldn't help himself from adding, “Of course, all this is a political strategy.”
Maya, another farmer in Banda, was unconvinced. “Sure, the scheme has been announced. But how will it actually benefit the poor if the money is eaten up by the corrupt officers in the system, the way it generally happens?” she questioned.
“This scheme will not be of much help to unregistered farmers, or sharecroppers,” said Anil, a village head in Chitrakoot. According to the scheme, only those farmers with less than two hectares of land could avail the benefits of this scheme, which would in effect, leave out the landless, including unregistered farmers and agricultural labourers. “They are not including the large-scale farmers in the welfare schemes,” he pointed out, “but do they not have the same needs?” He then added, “And these small-scale farmers, you’re only giving them Rs 6000 but to others you are giving Rs 24,000,” in reference to the financial assistance amount announced for the unemployed, “If you’re promising to give the unemployed Rs 24,000, then even the farmer will leave his profession to be eligible for that money. It is but obvious.”
“There are so many problems farmers are facing farmers: barren lands with no productivity, high cost of seeds, and even increased rates of electricity,” he continued, clearly agitated, “The government can make all the false promises they want, we know what the ground reality is.” If this Rs 6000 a year is just glorified lip service, what does Anil think the government could be doing instead to help the farmers? Anil had a host of answers, none of them shockingly new, “If you actually want to consider the needs of the farmers and help them, then the Swaminathan report should be implemented. Give the farmers the right to decide the prices of their crops according to the costs of production. Ensure that the basic needs of farming, like manure and seeds, are provided to them free of cost.”
Anil had more to add, as he listed what have been recommendations to mitigate a slowly-building agrarian crisis in India, “If the government really wants to consider the needs of farmers, then the first thing they need to do is make tubewell and other water provisions here. Here, all of the farmers’ biggest problem is the lack of irrigation — which the government has done nothing for. And of course, the second biggest problem is stray cattle.” By dealing with just these two problems, “the farmers would be happy and successful,” he said, pithily.
Anil was dismissive of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Scheme in general, “All this doesn’t help. The farmers’ death rate is only going to keep increasing day by day.”
Khabar Lahariya is a women-only network of rural reporters from Bundelkhand.
Updated Date: Feb 12, 2019 15:36:29 IST