Centre failed to deliver on its promises, say farmers’ groups

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New Delhi: The Union government has overlooked the spectre of rural distress and gone back on its promises to ensure remunerative returns to farmers, several farmer organizations claimed on Tuesday while releasing a paper on the state of Indian agriculture, ahead of the Union budget.

Titled Green Paper on Farmers, Farming and Rural Economy 2018, the document analysed available data to argue that the government-announced support prices did not cover the cost of cultivation for several crops and that the trade policy was skewed against the farmer, even as flagship government schemes for rural India lagged behind targets.

The paper was jointly released by farmer organizations Jai Kisan Andolan and Rythu Swaraj Vedika, and agriculture policy advocacy group Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture.

“This government not only went back on its electoral promise of announcing minimum support prices (MSPs) at 50% over costs, but also prevented states from announcing bonuses to farmers above centre-determined MSPs,” said Yogendra Yadav, farm activist and member of Jai Kisan Andolan.

“The data shows that actual public investments in agriculture have declined in the past four years… the just released Economic Survey also acknowledged that farmers are forced to sell below costs and agriculture revenues (a proxy for farm incomes) has been stagnant in the last four years,” Yadav added.

Data analysed by the report showed that for seven crops across categories like pulses, oilseeds and coarse grains, MSPs were below the comprehensive costs of cultivation between 2014-15 and 2017-18. For 17 crops, the net returns at MSP were significantly lower during the four years of National Democratic Alliance government, compared to the last term of the United Progressive Alliance government (2009-2014).

“Agriculture contributed just 8.3% to the overall non-performing assets of banks which is a reflection of the farmers’ discipline in repaying loans despite adversities,” the report said, adding, “the current government is more eager to bail out industry than farmers.”

“The centre has relegated the responsibility of announcing debt waiver on states and recent waiver packages implemented in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Punjab shows poor progress,” said Kiran Vissa, founder member of the Rythu Swaraj Vedika.

Tracking the progress of flagship irrigation schemes, the report said that only four out of the 23 large irrigation projects targeted for completion by March 2017 were fully complete by December 2017. On the flagship crop insurance scheme, the report said that insurance companies made windfall profits due to low claims to payment ratio of 55%, while in several districts, high actuarial premiums between 30% to 58% (of sum insured) was charged by these companies.

Despite the importance of the livestock sector for small farmers and India being the largest producer of milk, budgetary allocations for the sector as a proportion of the overall agriculture budget fell in the past four years, the report said, adding that the government’s attempts at regulating livestock trade severely affected farmers.

The centre has set a goal to double farmer incomes by 2022, but farm incomes are either stagnant or falling when inflation is taken into account, at a time when incomes of organized sector employees will see a substantive raise following implementation of the recommendations of the Seventh Pay Commission, the report said, urging the government to establish a statutory farmers’ income commission to ensure basic living incomes for agricultural households.

From the upcoming budget, the farmer organizations also demanded a revamp of price support policies, a comprehensive debt waiver package, a disaster mitigation fund, a credit guarantee fund for tenant farmers and doubling funds for irrigation schemes in rain-fed areas.livemint