One of the major challenges the Narendra Modi government faced was tackling agrarian distress in the face of slack markets, flawed import and export policies, demonetisation. It came up short.
That is why since 2016, farmers across the country have held protests against the government, demanding, among other things, that it implement MS Swaminathan Commission Report’s recommendations and increase minimum support prices for various crops.
The Bharatiya Janata Party came to power promising to double farmer incomes, increase minimum support prices to 1.5 times the cost of production, rationalise agricultural markets, make institutions for procurement more efficient, promote value additions to food production.
Scroll.in looks at how the ruling party has fared in fulfilling some of its promises.
Agriculture is the engine of India’s economic growth and the largest employer and the BJP commits highest priority to agricultural growth, increase in farmers’ income and rural development.
Status: One of the BJP’s key promises was doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022. In 2016, the National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development released a report on how this could be done. The Niti Aayog followed up with its own report in 2017. Yet, in real terms, farm income growth in the October to December 2018 quarter was at its lowest in 14 years, The Indian Express reported in March. It is “also the second consecutive quarter,” the daily added, “where growth in gross value added from agriculture has been lower in nominal than in real terms”.
Increasing public investment in agriculture and rural development.
Status: Government investment in agriculture declined to 18.8% in 2016-’17 from 43.2% in 1980-’81, The Indian Express noted.
Taking steps to enhance profitability in agriculture by ensuring a minimum 50% profit over the cost of production, cheaper agriculture inputs and credit. Introducing latest technologies for farming and high-yielding seeds and linking the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to agriculture.
Status: In the 2018-’19 budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced that minimum support prices would be raised to one and a half times the cost of production. The Centre announced minimum support prices for the Kharif season more than a month late in July 2018. However, the prices were raised according to A2+FL, a formula for calculating the cost of production that accounts only for the value of family labour and agricultural inputs, instead of the higher C2, which includes A2+FL as well as the imputed rental value of land. Farmers had been demanding that minimum support prices be calculated with C2 as the base.
Introducing and promoting low water consuming irrigation techniques and optimum utilisation of water resources.
Status: The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana was launched in 2015. It combined three existing schemes under the ministries of agriculture, rural development and water resources, with the aim to streamline and increase overall irrigation coverage in coordination with the states. The Economic Survey of 2017-’18 said the percentage of net irrigated area to the total cropped area was 34.5% that year. A 2018 report in the Hindustan Times points out that while the Centre has met its year-on-year targets for expanding micro-irrigation under the scheme since 2015-’16, this is largely because of high performance by five states, which together account for 78% of the expansion in coverage.
Introducing crop planning based on soil assessment and setting up mobile soil testing labs.
Status: In February 2015, the government announced a soil health card scheme to regularly test the soil quality of farmers, who could then use the test results to make informed decisions about which fertilisers to buy and use. Since May 2017, the government has tested nearly 1.98 crore soil samples and distributed soil health cards to 6.73 farmers, according to a press release of December 2018. However, there are several structural problems with the scheme. For one, each soil health card uses samples from a grid of 2.5 hectares of irrigated land and 10 hectares of unirrigated land. The average landholding in India is around two acres, which means a tested soil sample is not likely to be representative of all the fields in that grid. There are also not enough soil health laboratories to conduct this testing on a regular basis, as Scroll.in found in 2017. A survey by the International Food Policy Research Institute also found that farmers were unable to decipher the scientific and technical information provided on the cards and so were unlikely to use them for informed decisionmaking.
Reorienting pest management and control programmes.
Status: In the latter half of 2017, several cotton farmers, mostly in Maharashtra but elsewhere as well, died after inhaling deadly pesticides. The deaths led to national outrage. A Scroll.in investigation showed how faulty regulations for decades had led to toxic pesticides being freely available for use. In 2015, the Centre set up an expert committee headed by Anupam Verma to review 66 of at least 99 pesticides in use in India but banned in other countries. After drafting a ban notification in December 2016 based on the Verma committee’s report, the government formed another committee in March 2017 to evaluate the objections and suggestions to it. The new committee’s chairman retired without submitting a report in July 2017 and it was reconstituted under another chairman two months later. Finally, in 2018, the Centre banned 18 toxic pesticides, but not those implicated in the deaths of the farmers.
Implementing and incentivising “the setting up of the food processing industry that has remained just a plain talk till now. This will lead to better income for farmers and create jobs”. Setting up “agro food processing clusters”, with high-value, export-quality, vacuum-packed processing facilities.
Status: A new Agriculture Export Policy which discusses developing clusters to promote food processing and export was introduced in December 2018. But for now, this remains “just a plain talk”.
Setting up the Organic Farming and Fertiliser Corporation of India.
Status: The Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana was announced in 2015. In February 2019, the Centre told the Lok Sabha that from 2015-’16 to 2017-’18, it created 11,831 organic farming clusters, each of around 500 to 1,000 hectares. Another 20,000 such clusters were added across India in 2018-’19. Around Rs 800 crore had been released to such clusters since the scheme started, the government added. Much of this money went to Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. A report in Down to Earth notes that while India has the highest number of organic farmers in the world, many of them face problems of limited markets, high production costs and confusing certification systems.
Implementing a farm insurance scheme to tide over crop losses because of unforeseen natural calamities.
Status: The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana replaced several existing schemes, and allowed private players to enter the crop insurance market, not in competition with each other but as monopolies in designated areas. As crop insurance is linked to bank loans and credit outlay has declined, enrolment has gone down.
Strengthening and expanding rural credit facilities.
Status: The number of bank branches in rural areas has declined over the last five years, as has the number of business correspondents. The Reserve Bank of India introduced the Priority Sector Lending Certificate scheme in April 2016 to spur lending to agriculture. As of March, 2018, commercial banks and regional rural banks had crossed the target of Rs 11,000 crore set by the government for issuing agricultural credit while cooperative banks had achieved 96.4% of their target.
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Reforming the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act.
Status: The agriculture ministry released a model APMC Act in 2017. It provides for inter-state trading and single-point market fee, and to dissolve the notion of a notified market area. States are yet to follow up on this.
Exploring the setting up of regional Kisan TV channels.
Status: DD Kisan, a 24-hour TV channel for agriculture, was started in 2015. While the channel covers a variety of regions, there are no separate regional language variants as yet.
Giving high priority to poverty alleviation in rural areas.
Status: The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is a critical intervention in addressing poverty alleviation in rural areas. In real terms, funding for the scheme has not increased much since 2011, a February report in The Hindu shows. Researchers predict the deficit between the demand for work and the work generated could grow to Rs 12,000 crore. This could lead the states to shoulder the burden and eat into the amount budgeted for 2019-’20, the report adds.
Genetically Modified foods will not be allowed without full scientific evaluation of their long-term effects on soil, production and humans.
Status: The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has so far not cleared GM foods for use in India. However, a report in Down to Earth notes that while the authority told the Supreme Court in September 2017 that it had not permitted GM foods to be used in India, Health Minister JP Nadda admitted to Parliament in December 2017 that GM soyabean and canola oil had been imported into the country.
Adopting a National Land Use Policy to allow for “scientific acquisition of non-cultivable land and its development” while protecting the interest of farmers and keeping in mind the food production goals and economic goals of the country.
Status: The agriculture ministry released a draft National Land Use Policy in 2015. There has been no reported progress on this since. But there have been other major developments related to land rights. As soon as the BJP government assumed power in 2014, one of its first acts was to pass an ordinance that diluted the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act of 2013. After renewing the ordinance thrice, the Centre allowed it to lapse in August 2015, giving in to sustained public outcry. An amendment to the law was not passed by the Lok Sabha. State governments, though, have retained amendments that dilute the national law and give greater acquisition powers to them.
Putting in place strict measures and special courts to stop hoarding and black marketing.
Status: There is no such court.
Setting up a Price Stabilisation Fund.
Status: A Price Stabilisation Fund to maintain a buffer stock of pulses was set up in 2014 under the agriculture ministry. Two years later, the fund was shifted to the consumer affairs ministry. Expenditure from the fund reached its peak that year, even as prices of pulses soared, influenced by trader collusion.
Unbundling the Food Corporation of India’s operations into procurement, storage and distribution for greater efficiency.
Status: In 2015, the Shanta Kumar Committee submitted a report on the food corporation’s restructuring. It asked for procurement be devolved to the states with infrastructure to handle it on their own and for warehousing operations to be outsourced to the private sector. Neither has happened.
Using technology to disseminate real-time data, especially to farmers, on production, prices, imports, stocks and such.
Status: The government has launched several mobile apps for farmers to receive real-time data on prices, weather, crop insurance, and other advisories. However, these have limited penetration. For example, mKisan, which provides farmers real-time weather updates, was launched by the Congress-led government in 2013. A report in 2018 said around 2.5 crore farmers were registered to get mKisan updates. India has around nine crore farmers.
Creating a single National Agriculture Market.
Status: In April 2016, Modi launched e-NAM, a National Agriculture Market, to digitally connect buyers and sellers from across India. According to the National Agricultural Market website, only 585 of the country’s 22,000 agriculture markets have signed up. Of these, 7,500 are Agriculture Produce Market Committees. The first inter-state sale on e-NAM took place only in January 2019.