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An election gift to farmers


'Pradhan Manthri Kisan Samman Nidhi'  (PM Kisan Scheme) was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh on Sunday.  The scheme provides for a deposit of Rs 6,000 per year in the bank accounts of 12 crore farmers of the country,  with a farm holding of less than five acres.  As the first installment, online transfers of Rs 2,000 each to the  1.01 crore farmers' bank accounts was deposited by the prime minister himself. 

He announced at the venue that the remaining farmers would soon receive their amounts soon,  and also that by 2022 farmers' income would be doubled.    The scheme was announced by the Central Government in the latest budget, as a welfare plan for the farmers who have been struggling against indebtedness and unemployment as a result of drought,  poor harvest and low produce prices.  The scheme is estimated to cost Rs 75,000 Cr annually.

Narendra Modi,  who said that the scheme should not be seen as an election stunt with the general elections round the corner,  however used most part of his inauguration speech to highlight it as a response to the Congress party's declared policy to write off agricultural loans.  He also claimed that writing off farmer loans would benefit only a section,  that the Congress which remembers voters only once in ten years was declaring only paper schemes,  and that as against the Congress writing  off Rs 52,000 Cr in ten years,  his government was giving the farmers Rs 75,000 Crore every year. 

The political motive however, became all too clear soon in the inauguration of the scheme in Kerala.   When central minister Alfons Kannanthanam inaugurated it on behalf of the Centre at Thiruvananthapuram  without letting the CPM-led state government come anywhere near the function,   the official inauguration of the scheme at the state level was inaugurated by Kerala Agriculture Minister VS Sunil Kumar at Kottayam.   With former finance minister and Congress leader P Chidambaram entering the scene, calling the scheme 'note for vote',   the whole affair seems to be turning into a tussle to tap into the vote bank of farmers.   The Centre is doling out this subsistence concession to farmers owning upto five acres of land.

The crores of hapless farmers destined to slog it out with farming but without farm land,  are outside the purview of these concessions.   And it is anybody's guess how sufficient the amount of Rs 500 per month will be,  to sustain a five-member family.  In fact the current scheme was inspired by the schemes introduced by state governments of Telengana and Odisha.  But  both Telengana's 'rythu bandhu' scheme of giving Rs 8,000 per acre per year,  and Odisha KALIA (Krushak Assistance For Livelihood and Income Augumentation) scheme that provides Rs 10,000 annually to each farmer with two hectares of farm land, are more liberal and labour-friendly than the central scheme.

Even with all this,  there is a criticism that the scheme has not been taken to its successful culmination.  It is in this situation that a section of farmers are granted a pittance.  And the funds identified as resource for this comes by pruning the allocations for the Centre's employment security plan,  Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and  Swachch Bharat Mission,  thus garnering Rs 20,000 Crore in order to  foot the bill for karshak nidhi. 

In spite of the fact that farmer suicides have proliferated with no end in sight,  no serious attempt has been made by governments ever since attainment of independence to meet the demands raised by them on subjects like ownership of cultivated land,  loan write-off,  minimum support price and mechanisms to collect their produce.  In the two decades from 1995 to 2015 alone,  three lakh farmers committed suicide.   These were the demands that were raised in all the farmer marchers that shook northern India in the past few months.

In recent elections to state assemblies of Rajasthan,  Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh,  when the disregard of farmer issues caused a setback for the BJP,  people were lending support to the Congress' declaration that it would write off farmer loans.    From the realization that this will sway votes in the upcoming general election,  the BJP is seeking  an antidote to this in the form of PM Kisan Scheme.    However,  there have been demands that the PM Kisan Scheme distribution should put conditions that give a fillip to agricultural employement,  such as planned use of farmland and harvest augmentation.

But without the patience for any such matters,  and without exploring fool-proof ways of evaluating how strictly the conditions will be met,   this will turn into a process of throwing some money to a section of farmers.   And experts in the field have already raised as concern this major drawback of the scheme.   Without  solutions for core issues, if this becomes an election goody,   who this will benefit in the backdrop of polls will be clear after the elections.   But then,  the solution to the real problems of Indian farmers,  will continue to be a riddle.

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