Budget 2020-21: Experts hope for more funds to boost farm income

They also hope money will be given for irrigation facilities as well as for women and tenant farmers

By Jitendra
Published: Thursday 30 January 2020

The Union government could increase fund allocation to schemes floated for improving farmers’ incomes, besides those meant to address the issues of irrigation networks, women and tenant farmers in the Union Budget 2020-21, agricultural experts told Down To Earth.

One such scheme would be the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan), announced by then-Union Minister for Finance, Piyush Goyal in the interim Budget 2019-20.

It was a master stroke by the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party government on the eve of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

According to government think-tank Niti Ayog, the real income of Indian farmers had grown by just 0.44 per cent between 2011 and 2015. This minimal real income growth came to zero in 2017 and 2018.

Consequently, the government announced PM-Kisan, a direct income support scheme with a total allocation of 75,000 crore. Under it, every farmer would get Rs 6,000 per year in three installments.

“The incomes of India’s farmers have been frozen since 2000,” agriculture and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma told DTE.

“While the government had taken an admirable step by providing direct income support to farmers, it was too meagre to bring any change on the ground. The government should think of providing Rs 18,000 per year to every farmer,” he said.

Sharma’s expectation is based on the fact that farmers’ produce has been subsidised for the last 20 years, and has resulted in huge losses for them.

Indian farmers have suffered losses to the tune of Rs 45 lakh crore between 2000-01 and 2016-17 due to denial of proper remuneration for their produce, according to a joint study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (Icrier).

In other words, farmers suffered losses of Rs 2.65 lakh crore a year, mostly due to low prices, trade restrictions and huge gaps in marketing policies, including shortfall in assured procurement.

“This denial of farmers’ income forced them to depend on institutional farm credit or money lenders, that in turn caused a spate of farmer suicides,” Sharma said.

The half-hearted approach of subsequent governments has not brought much change on the ground. Even under PM-Kisan, more than 50 per cent farmers did not receive all three installments of the scheme.

No wonder, farmers’ suicides have continued. In 2018, the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) recorded 103,349 such suicides across India.

Ramandeep Singh Mann, a farmer activist, pointed to the fact that in its first term, the Narendra Modi government had promised to double farmers’ income by 2022. However, in order to achieve this, the required increase in farmers’ real income should be 10.4 per cent, with the base year of 2015-16, according to the Dalwai Committee Report.

“It is impossible for the government to achieve this target in the current scenario unless it takes some radical steps to ensure guaranteed income of farmers,” Mann said.

There are other expectations too. With the country’s economy growing at around 5 per cent, the agriculture sector has taken a beating in the year 2019-20.

“There is a need to promote farmer produce companies in the face of declining land size of farmers’ holdings, mostly in eastern India,” Siraj Hussain, visiting fellow, Icrier, said.

He also hoped the government would channel more money into irrigation networks as more than 52 per cent of India’s agricultural areas are still rain-fed.

Kavitha Kuruganti, of farmers’ organisation Makaam, said the government must make policies for women and tenant farmers.

Recently, Makaam organised a two-day conclave that flagged the issue of women and tenant farmers. According to NCRB, the total number of farmer suicides in India between 1995 and 2018 was 353,802. About 86 per cent of these (303,597) were men and the rest (50,188) were women.

“Why do these two groups of farmers, who are more vulnerable, not feature in government policy?” Kuruganti asked. 

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