Bihar farmers question government decision to end diesel subsidy for them

Power supply in villages still uncertain, they say

By Mohd Imran Khan
Published: Thursday 24 December 2020
Bihar farmers question government decision to end diesel subsidy. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Farmers in Bihar have questioned the state government’s decision December 21, 2020, to end subsidy to them for diesel, which has been around for almost a decade, on the grounds that rural areas of the state are receiving sufficient power.

Farmers in the state told this reporter that the reasons given by the government for rescinding the subsidy did not make sense. The farmers, who are already under a lot of distress due to a number of reasons, will suffer even more due to this unwise move, they said.

“Farmers like me use different machines and tractors for ploughing, harvesting and irrigation. We are compelled to use diesel since electricity supply in rural areas is still uncertain and connectivity is not everywhere in the field,” Omnarayan Kushwaha, a marginal farmer from Chandhaus village under Paliganj, told this reporter.

Kavindar Sharma, a marginal farmer from Izarta village under the Paliganj block of Patna district said the government’s much-hyped renewable energy schemes were only on paper so far.

Sharma noted that farmers had no other option but to use diesel for irrigation, ploughing, harvesting and threshing since there was no solar energy to be used for all these works.

Bihar has subsidised diesel for irrigation at Rs 60 a litre thrice a season. The long-lasting drought situation in the state had made the supply of diesel to farmers and the subsidy given to them all the more important.

Last year, the government provided diesel subsidy to 0.6 million of 1.1 million farmers, who had applied for it. During 2018-19, subsidy was given to 3 million of 4.2 million farmers who had applied for it

However, in the first week of December, Bihar’s agriculture minister Amrendra Pratap Singh claimed there was no need to provide the subsidy. This, he said, was because electricity was now available in rural areas as grid connectivity had reached all villages. Besides, electricity was cheaper than diesel.

Balmiki Sharma, secretary of Paliganj Bitarni Krishak Samiti, has been working among farmers of over 50 villages. The government should not have ended the scheme, he said.

“It is a fact that some farmers wrongly get benefits of diesel subsidy. However, now that the government has ended it, genuine farmers will also be deprived,” Sharma said.

Climate Change

This kharif season was the first time in several years that Bihar recorded more than normal rainfall, according to Abdus Sattar, an agro-meteorologist at the Rajendra Prasad Central Agricultural University in Samastipur district.

This could be attributed to the normal onset of the monsoon in Bihar this year, unlike the preceding 10 years and subsequent active phase of monsoon due to convergence of moisture and formation of depressions, Sattar added.

Good rainfall had been a boon for kharif crops, preparation of nurseries, the subsequent transplantation of paddy and a bumper harvest.

From 2009-2018, the monsoon arrived June 29, June 18, June 17, June 19, June 15, June 18, June 22, June 17, June 22 and June 25 respectively.

Bihar has, however, faced less rainfall during the monsoon year after year, except in 2019, when the state recorded three per cent more than normal to heavy rainfall from September 27-30.

This resulted in floods in over a dozen districts, with Patna facing waterlogging for days.

Bihar receives 1,027.6 millimetres (mm) rain in a normal monsoon year and its average annual rainfall — including pre-monsoon, monsoon, post-monsoon and winter — is 1,205.6 mm, according to the India Meteorological Department.

A good monsoon meant that farmers were less dependent on diesel for irrigation. However, the farmers of the state will now have to face the next kharif season without an aide like the diesel subsidy. If drought-like conditions prevail, they could suffer heavy losses.

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