As BJP, Congress spar over loan waivers, how regional parties are tackling farm distress
The political repercussions of alienating farmers are too apparent for any party to ignore. But each party has tackled the issue in its own particular way.
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Approaching elections never fail to make the common man feel special in India. They are suddenly made to realise they are an important part of the country and make a valuable contribution in nation-building — mainly in the form of their votes.
The aam admi suddenly realises he enjoys constitutional rights, just like his more fortunate brethren — VIPs of all hues and shades. This does not last long. The special status, like migratory birds, goes too soon, leaving us basking in the warm afterglow of democratic rights, waiting for the next election season to come by.
At present, we are living in this wonderful phase.
Everything from sewing machines to a sparkling future is on offer.
The prevailing political uncertainty has ensured that the main power players are leaving no stone unturned to woo us. While the Congress has come up with sweeping loan waiver schemes, the NDA too is reportedly mulling some big-ticket largesse.
Finally, good days seem to have arrived.
Farm distress is the focus of all political parties ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. (Photo: Reuters/file)
The farm sector, more than anybody else, is in dire need of good days.
Farm distress has seen governments tumble in the Hindi heartland. Loan waivers are being announced everywhere.
Indeed, these waivers have become a political dilemma for all parties. A loan waiver does not benefit a lot of people — yet, not announcing one is a sure way of being tagged ‘anti-farmer’.
The political repercussions of alienating farmers are too apparent for any party to ignore. Thus, as the country gears up for General Elections, it is not only the BJP and Congress who are preparing the ground with pro-farmer schemes. Some regional leaders, too, have done quite well in formulating and implementing effective schemes for the farm sector.
The Telangana government’s Rythu Bandhu scheme must find first mention here. Where all other incumbent governments were booted out in the recent Assembly polls, the resounding victory of the TRS in Telangana showed what rich dividends a truly pro-farmer scheme can reap.
The Rythu Bandhu scheme bore fruit for KCR in the recent polls. (Photo: PTI)
The scheme was launched in August 2018. Some hiccups notwithstanding, it takes care of the initial investment needs of every farmer at the very beginning of the crop cycle.
It relieves the farmer’s debt burden and provides a grant of Rs 4,000 per acre per farmer each crop for the purchase of inputs such as seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, labour, etc. It does not ask the farmer about his crop.
The scheme has its critics, but investment comes way cheaper for the government and provides quantifiable benefits for the farmer in general. You can probably look at it as a quasi-universal basic income scheme, and along with good MSP, it has the potential to turn the tide the farmer’s way.
The AIADMK government in Tamil Nadu too has made all the right noises by giving the go-ahead for the Avinashi-Athikadavu irrigation scheme. The initiative, the result of a six-decade demand of farmers, has won some praise for the embattled EPS-OPS dispensation.
Already, a farmers’ association has pledged its support to the AIADMK in the upcoming elections.
The BJD-led Odisha government recently announced a Rs 10,000-crore scheme for the overall development of farmers. Interestingly, the scheme does not have the provision of farm loan waivers. According to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, all small and marginal farmers of the state would be covered under the scheme, named KALIA (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation scheme). He claimed that this scheme would cover 92% of the over 32 lakh cultivators in Odisha.
Navin Patnaik's government recently announced a Rs 10,000-crore scheme for farmers. (Photo: PTI/file)
Then there is the example of the Kerala State Farmers’ Debt Relief Commission. It was initially envisioned by Delhi-based economist Prabhat Patnaik and the-then CPI(M) government under VS Achuthanandan. The model was inspired by the pre-Independence Sir Chottu Ram Commission in Punjab. Basically, it consists of a team of farmers, legal experts, agro-economists and political representatives, who travel from one village to another, address farmers, check their loan portfolio and decide on a figure for individual financial relief.
Relief is available only for a small or marginal farmer, who owns or has leased farmland smaller than five acres, and has an annual income of less than Rs 2 lakh and only loans from cooperative banks are eligible for relief.
In 2017-18, an estimated 11,000 farmers have benefited as a result of the Debt Relief Commission. Total disbursments stood at Rs 11 crore.
Farmer suicides in Kerala have come down significantly since the highs of 2006-07.
There is constant engagement with farmers at the ground level, an attempt to understand the ground realities they face.
The scheme, however, can be criticised for being too slow, and for being effective only in a small state like Kerala, rather than the huge Uttar Pradesh or Madhya Pradesh.
Then there is Andhra Pradesh. CM Chandrababu Naidu recently released a white paper on agriculture in the state and claimed to have doubled farm income in over four years, with an average sectoral growth of more than 10%. At the very basic level, a debt redemption scheme, soil health cards, farm mechanisation, zero budget natural farming, reduction in the use of insecticides, pesticides and fertilisers, government interventions and initiatives for the purchase of farmers’ produce, mega seed parks and input subsidies helped the government in achieving its targets.
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee, who is expected to play a big role in government formation after the 2019 elections, is also a popular and ‘pro-poor’ CM. She was the latest in line to announce schemes to protect the future of farming families, via the ‘Krishak Bandhu’ scheme.
Mamata Banerjee has come up with her own farm relief scheme. (Photo: PTI/file)
Under this, in the case of the death of a farmer or farm labourer in the age range of 18 to 60 years, his family will immediately receive a Rs 2 lakh relief. Besides, farmers will have investment support of Rs 5,000 per acre for two crops per year. An estimated one crore farmers will be benefited by this scheme and it will cost the government exchequer around Rs 8,000 crore. This can be seen as an insurance-cum-investment support scheme.
The basic premises of all successful pro-farmer schemes are constant engagement and investment at the beginning of the crop cycle.
Insurance support and interventions in purchasing farm produce and inputs like seeds, irrigation and technical knowhow enhance the efficacy of these schemes. It makes good economic sense too.
Providing a sound economic platform should be preferred over waivers and write-offs.
Ultimately, we must look beyond relief towards self-sufficiency.