Opposition parties once again attacked the Centre on Friday after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman unveiled the third tranche of the Rs 20 lakh crore economic stimulus package earlier in the day. The Congress labelled the package a “jumla” and accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sitharaman of practicing “voodoo economics”.

The Centre imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 25 to combat the spread of the coronavirus. The lockdown has been extended thrice and will continue past May 17 with certain relaxations, the prime minister had said on May 11. However, the lockdown has caused enormous economic distress and a rise in unemployment.

Sitharaman announced a package of Rs 1 lakh crore for building agricultural infrastructure. She also said that funds transfer of Rs 18,700 crore has been made during the last two months under the PM-Kisan scheme. The finance minister added that claims worth Rs 6,400 crore have been released under the PM Fasal Bima Yojana during the same time period.

Reacting to this, Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said that the Centre has identified only 8.22 crore out of the 14.64 crore farmers in India for the PM-Kisan scheme. He also claimed that the Modi-led government has increased the cost price of farming by about Rs 15,000 per acre over the last five years.

“During the corona epidemic, farmers and labourers are facing the most difficulty,” Surjewala said. “Instead of giving them relief the Modi government is hurting the farmers and labourers and instead of providing help, it is pushing the farmer in the debt trap.”

Surjewala claimed that the Modi-led government “neither understands the pain of the farmer nor the problem of farming”. He alleged that not a single penny has been given to the farmer in the economic package so far.

Congress leader and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram backed up Surjewala’s claims. “In our estimate, the fiscal stimulus part of the second tranche of announcements was Rs 5,000 crore,” he tweeted. “Most analysts agree. In today’s tranche it is close to zero.” He said Sitharaman refused to answer a question asked at Friday’s briefing about how many of the amounts mentioned were part of the expenditure budget and how many are additional sums of money.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said that the tranche was another instance of “mega repackaging”. He added that Friday’s tranche deals more with provisions in the post-coronavirus scenario rather than “addressing the crisis itself and its devastating impact on rural India”.

“Agricultural distress was deepening even before [the] pandemic,” Yechury tweeted. “Rabi harvest is still not procured at MSP [minimum selling price]. Kharrif sowing will begin in June. There’s acute shortage of seeds, fertilisers and other inputs. This package doesn’t even recognise this, let alone financially assisting farmers.”

Narendra Modi, Amit Shah welcome steps

Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised Friday’s announcements. “I welcome today’s measures announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman,” he tweeted. “They will help the rural economy, our hardworking farmers, fishermen, the animal husbandry and dairy sectors. I specially welcome reform initiatives in agriculture, which will boost income of farmers.”

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said the Centre will bring in a law to give farmers enough options to sell their produce at a better price. “Modi government believes that India’s welfare lies in the welfare of farmers,” he tweeted in Hindi. “This unprecedented assistance given to farmers today shows Modiji’s foresight to make the country self-sufficient by empowering farmers. For this, I congratulate Narendra Modiji and Nirmala Sitharamanji.”

The home minister said he was confident that the decision to allot Rs 1 lakh crore to agricultural infrastructure will give a new direction to the sector. “He [the farmer] will be able to do barrier-free inter-state trade and through e-trading, his produce will reach every corner of the country,” Shah said.

On Friday, the finance minister admitted that farmers have not been able to sell their produce in the market due to disruption of supply chains. She said the government will provide 50% subsidy on transportation from surplus to deficient markets, and a similar subsidy on storage.

Sitharaman said that the Centre will amend the Essential Commodities Act to enable better price realisation for farmers. She also unveiled a scheme to launch two lakh Micro Food Enterprises, in order to realise Modi’s “vocal for local with global outreach” vision.

India has so far reported 81,970 cases of the coronavirus, including 2,649 deaths, according to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

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