Promises to the farmers -Ashok Gulati & Ritika Juneja

-The Indian Express

Whichever party comes to power at the Centre, India is making a policy shift to direct income support.

The festival of democracy started with the first phase of polling on April 11. Ideally, it should be celebrated like Holi, forgetting past enmity and embracing each other with love. But, unfortunately, it is being fought like the battle of Kurukshetra in the epic, Mahabharata. All the weapons of politics — saam, daam, dand, bhed — are being used. Saam reaches for accord with other parties, daam uses money power to buy votes, dand uses the CBI to raid the camps of opponents, and bhed divides voters on caste/religious lines.

Voters are in a quandary as the political parties have promised the moon in their manifestos. They know that most of these promises will be forgotten once the elections are over. Yet, one must look at manifestos which reflect the best intentions of the parties. We examine some of these with respect to farmers and the poor, normally agri-labourers. Given that the full list is too extensive, we focus only on the big ticket promises.

BJP’s sankalp patra (manifesto) promises to double farmers’ income by 2022-23, a reiteration of its earlier promise. Under that heading, it lists 29 promises/schemes. The most notable one is PM-Kisan (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana), which will be extended to all farm families. It promises to give each farm family Rs 6,000 per year. With an estimated 14.6 crore farm families as per the 2015-16 survey, this would cost about Rs 87,600 crore per annum. This may be the largest direct income support (DIS) by the government of India (GoI). But as a NABARD survey on financial inclusion showed, the average farmer household income was Rs 8,931 per month in 2015-16, which by now must have crossed Rs 10,000 per month (or Rs 1,20,000 per annum) in nominal terms, after adjusting for inflation. So, a support of Rs 6,000 per year is a meagre five per cent support. Doubling of farmers’ income surely requires much more than this DIS.

The Dalwai Committee set up by the Narendra Modi government in 2016 had made it clear that the promise to double farmers’ income is, in real terms, with the base year of 2015-16. It calculated that it would need 10.4 per cent growth per annum in real terms from 2016-17 to 2022-23 to double farmers’ real incomes. The past record of growth in real incomes of farmers during 2002-03 to 2015-16 shows that they increased at 3.7 per cent per annum, and this growth follows very closely the growth in agri-GDP. The Modi government’s five year record of agri-GDP is pretty low at 2.9 per cent per annum. That means for the remaining four years, the growth in farmers’ real incomes has to be almost 15 per cent per annum. This is next to impossible given the existing set of policies. No wonder the Congress party calls it the Modi government’s jumla.

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The Indian Express, 15 April, 2019, https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/india-farmers-income-subsidies-congress-bjp-manifesto-lok-sabha-elections-5675492/

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