PM-KISAN challenge: Centre may end up spending only a fifth before elections

Lack of land records, poor Aadhar-linkage can cap disbursement at Rs 3,500 cr this financial year

By Jitendra
Published: Tuesday 05 February 2019

The Narendra Modi government may have to be content spending less than a fifth of what it allocated for its much-touted Pradhan Mandhri KIsan SAmman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) for whatever remains of the current financial year. The lack of detailed land records and gaps in Aadhar-linkages for bank accounts can be major roadblocks.

Union minister Piyush Goyal announced PM-KISAN to give “vulnerable landholding farmer families” Rs 6,000 a year in the Vote-on-Account he tabled before the Lok Sabha on February 1, 2019. A large section called the scheme a potential game-changer before the 2019 General Elections for the incumbent government.

The programme was made effective retroactively, from December 1, 2018. Thus, every family holding land less than 2 hectares would get Rs 2,000 for the 2018-19 financial year. For this Goyal provided Rs 20,000 crore in his Revised Estimates for the year, considering “around 12 crore small and marginal farmer families are expected to benefit”.

Government sources, however, said only Rs 3,500 crore could be potentially spent by March, when the financial year ends. Anyway, after that the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct will kick in, tying up the government machinery.

The lack of data is a major obstacle: According to Agriculture Census 2015-16, 86.2 per cent of landholdings were marginal (up to 1 hectare) or small (1-2 hectare). But they totalled only 47.3 per cent of India’s crop land (157.14 million hectares). Thus, the country’s 12.6 crore small and marginal farmers together owned 74.4 million hectares.

But how does the government reach them? The status of land-holding records are not uniform across states, nor are the levels of bank accounts linked with Aadhar — the potential gateway for the Centre to transfer the money to farmers.

Farmers in Karnataka, Kerala and West Bengal can benefit readily due to robust Aadhar linkages and well-kept land record. State like West Bengal also have well-kept records of share cropper and tenant farmers, officials said.

Bihar, Jharkhand and states in the North East, on the other hand, have relatively poor maintenance of records and lower Aadhar linkages.

According to them, there has been intense consultation in the upper echelon of the government to maximise political benefit from the scheme. “Meetings are going on how to maximise this fund distributions before the end of financial year on March 31,” a senior government official said.

“It is a great political move helping the current government draw blood in the last moments before formally going into election” said a senior official at the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, the nodal ministry for disbursement of PM-KISAN funds.

Goyal has proposed to allocate Rs 75,000 crore for the scheme for 2019-20, to be distributed in three equal instalments in July, November and March. Those agricultural households that pay income-tax, government employees, tenant farmers and share croppers are to be excluded from the list of beneficiaries.

The shifting of the Union Budget presentation to February 1 from March 1 meant the government would be left with two months to start the scheme even before the next financial year. The senior official, however, said most of February would be wasted in seeking parliamentary approval for the Budget.

That will leave only March for distribution of funds. Now “it all depends on the party as to how it takes the message to farmers that money would be distributed properly once it returns to power” he added.

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