Replying to questions in a Lok Sabha debate on grants for rural development, agriculture and farmers' welfare, Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said, "A sum of Rs 87,000 crore is going directly into the pockets of the farmers." The demand was approved by a voice vote on Wednesay, and no one questioned what the minister said. For good measure, Tomar also pointed out that “Prime Minister Modi paid attention to them [the farmers] and launched PM-Kisan.”
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Budget 2019 had indeed allocated that sum of money to reach the pockets of farmers, a lot of it simply as cash. Rs 75,000 crore under the PM-Kisan programme is transferred as a Rs 6,000-a-year DBT to farmers with land holdings of up to two hectares; Rs 900 crore goes as pension under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Pension Yojana. There are other components of the expenditure budget of the agriculture ministry—like the interest subsidy, market intervention scheme and price support scheme.
But, none of this is likely to help double the farmers' income by 2022. Nor is any of this going to help an agriculture growth rate of at least four per cent annually that DMK member S.S. Palanimanickam had pointed out was crucial to a sustainable growth rate for the entire economy. Almost as if to say that the MPs knew what they were talking about, he said 95 per cent of the MPs were directly or indirectly involved with agriculture.
Congress MP Uttam Kumar Reddy said agriculture growth in the first four years of Prime Minister Modi's first term was almost zero, and brought the focus on the contentious issue of Minimum Support Price (MSP), which the NITI Aayog now, and many committees on agricultural costs and prices before it, had arrived at by computing the costs and prices of inputs into agriculture on a crop-by-crop basis across the country.
It took protests by farmers and many farm suicides and nagging agrarian distress to bring centrestage the idea that the MSP has to include a realistic cost of farm labour, and activists stepped in to point out that the landowning farmer's family members also worked on the land, and their labour input too had to be paid. That was the missing factor in their computation of a fair MSP.
This, farmers and activists say, has not not been done Reddy told the Lok Sabha that the government had “not fully implemented its promise of giving MSP to farmers at 50 per cent above the input cost”.
Reddy had nailed it, but nothing came out of it in Tomar's reply. Reddy, as well as others cutting across the political divide, pointed out that the promise to double farmer's income was made in 2016, and there was no progress report on it from the government on how much the farmers' income had grown in the last years.
The Economic Survey points out seven sources of income growth: improvement in crop productivity, improvement in livestock productivity, resources being used efficiently to reduce cost of production, increase in the cropping intensity, diversification towards high value crops, improvement in real prices received by farmers, and shift from farm to non-farm occupations.
Strangely, these are only for the farmers, who, in any case, seem to turn out bumper crops year after year.
What farmers need is the expansion of the Agriculture Produce Market Committee regulated markets—the physical mandis where the grains are heaped, tractors with laden trailers wait out—from the present 7,000 to about 42,000, and such that there is a mandi in every rural five km radial distance, with silos and warhouses. All this in addition to an MSP that is realistic, and proper enforcement of procurement, are a must for the farmer's income to be doubled by 2022.