Govt’s Fad For Optics Dilutes Effectiveness Of Farmers’ Direct Benefit Scheme - Vibes Of India

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Govt’s Fad For Optics Dilutes Effectiveness Of Farmers’ Direct Benefit Scheme

| Updated: June 19, 2024 11:01

The PM-KISAN scheme was launched in the interim budget of 2019. It involves a cash transfer of Rs 6,000 per year to farmers which is distributed in three equal instalments of Rs 2,000 each. Sixteen such instalments have already been paid, and this month the 17th instalment is being released.

By now one would have expected this to be a routine programme of farmers receiving their entitlements through the direct benefit transfer from the budgets allocated for the respective ministry and implemented through the departmental staff.

However, what we see is a whole event around this, with a person no less than the prime minister being involved. The news that Rs 20,000 crore is being released to 9.26 crore farmers through a public meeting held in Varanasi during the first visit of the PM to his constituency after the elections is making headlines. About 2.5 crore farmers participated in this event on Tuesday virtually from across the country.

Dipa Sinha writes in The Wire that despite a reduced majority, the tendency to posit every programme and intervention as the prime minister’s largesse towards the masses seems to be continuing. The BJP’s manifesto for the 2024 elections, called ‘Modi ki Guarantee’, had hardly anything substantial or new for the farmers of the country. The manifesto does not even make mention of the earlier promise of doubling farmers’ income. Farmers have come out on the streets multiple times over the past few years to highlight their distress and their demands for systems to ensure adequate remuneration for their work. The farmers’ demands for an MSP guarantee did not find any traction in the BJP manifesto. Much of their election campaign also did not raise the issue of farmers’ well-being.

There was a lot of expectation prior to the interim budget in February this year that the amount given as cash transfer under the PM-KISAN would be increased. This was also not done. Rather, after the elections the five-year-old scheme which has been running continuously since is being ‘released’ without even increasing the amount to take into account inflation. The same Rs 2,000, 16 instalments of which farmers have received so far, is being distributed with a lot of pomp and grandeur as if it were a new initiative.

The PM-KISAN was discussed quite a bit when it was launched in 2019 and many pointed out how it was an inadequate and also inappropriate response to the crisis in agriculture. This cash transfer of Rs 6,000 per farmer is too small an amount to make a serious dent on farmers’ incomes or indebtedness, is not inflation indexed, focuses only on landowners while many cultivators in this country are tenant farmers and takes attention away from the structural issues in farming including poor public investment. Public investment in agriculture as a proportion of total expenditure as well as GDP has been reducing over the last decade, while more than 45% of the population still depends on agriculture for their livelihood. The agriculture sector is also facing new challenges each year with climate change-related shocks requiring a comprehensive response while keeping the welfare of farmers most of whom are small and marginal as well as the food security needs of the country in the centre. However, what we have been witnessing are piecemeal interventions and an attempt to divert attention away from the real issues.

Many concerns raised by the farmers’ protests and the discussions around the three farm bills that were ultimately withdrawn have still not been addressed. MSP for all crops as well as decentralised procurement, increased investments in agriculture, crop diversification, access to inputs and credit, crop insurance, improvements in R&D and extension services, ad hoc trade policies, WTO restrictions, reduction in the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, access to markets, storage, wastage – the list of things which require serious policy attention in agriculture is very long. Unequal distribution in land ownership including the issues of caste and gender involved are not even spoken about.

As part of the events on June 18, 30,000 SHGs trained as Krishi Sakhis to work as para extension workers will also be distributed certificates. Once again, women are relegated to the role of ‘volunteers’ (in this case ‘sakhis’) and ‘para’ workers fulfilling the need for critical services, while themselves remaining underpaid and unrecognised. In this instance, it is ironical that even in a programme for farmers, women are brought in as volunteers and not as farmers.

Seventy-five per cent women in the category of ‘usually working persons’ in rural areas according to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) 2022-23 are in agriculture, while the corresponding figure for men is 49%. However, while among all rural men in agriculture 63% are in the ‘own account worker/employer’ category, 52% rural women in agriculture are in the ‘helper in household enterprise’ category. It is also well known that land ownership is extremely skewed. Women therefore bear an equal and, in many cases, the larger burden of agricultural work but are not recognised as farmers. Even under the PM-KISAN, as seen in the data given in a response to a question in the Rajya Sabha earlier this year, less than 25% of the beneficiaries are women.

Some analysis of the election results suggests that the BJP lost a large number of seats in rural areas. Rural distress in the form of stagnant wages, poor returns to agriculture and rising unemployment has been highlighted by many as reasons for the same. One would have hoped that the ruling party would have taken some lessons from this mandate to bring greater attention to rural areas, including towards the agriculture sector rather than making such a big fuss over nothing.

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