New Delhi, April 10
Three days ago a video from Madhya Pradesh's Ratlam of a farmer dancing to the tune of drum beats with his produce of garlic at his feet went viral. He and scores of other farmers like him were getting a mere Rs 1.16 or less per kilogram of garlic, the same which was being sold at almost 100 times by the traders and wholesalers.
Along with the viral video, started the debate about how much exactly do the farmers get their due?
In 2016, on February 28, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced that his government planned to pursue such policies that the farmers' income would double as India celebrates the 75th Independence Day in 2022.
In the year 2022, more than a month after the announcement's sixth anniversary, the debate is not just about whether or not farmers' income has doubled, but also about when exactly was this to happen?
To start with, the Union Budget document — nor the Finance Minister's speech — had no mention whatsoever of the promise. Then, the whole of March went just like that and the government still said nothing.
"It is very clear. The Prime Minister had made the announcement on February 28, 2016. So, ideally speaking, February 28, 2022 should be the date when we consider doubling of farmers' income to happen," said Yogendra Yadav, political activist and founder member of Jai Kisan Andolan.
Ashok Dalwai, who headed the committee that came out with the voluminous report on Doubling Farmers' Incomes, differed and claimed that the announcement was made in 2016 and promised to double income in six years, i.e., when India will be celebrating 75th anniversary of Independence. "With that in mind, from 2016-17, it will be 2022-23. We are still in the running," Dalwai said.
In the just concluded Parliament session, Pradyut Bardoloi, Congress MP from Assam, had asked a question along with other MPs — Ram Mohan Naidu Kinjarapu, Maneka Sanjay Gandhi and Nama Nageshwara Rao — about doubling of income.
Upon receiving the reply, Bardoloi tweeted on April 5, "In 2016, the BJP govt announced the target of doubling farmers' income by 2022 from Rs 8,059 per month in 2015-16 to Rs 21,146 per month in 2022 (accounting for inflation). In response to my question in the Lok Sabha today, it is clear that GoI is far from achieving these results! (sic)"
Yadav, who was also one of the prominent leaders from the consortium of farmers, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, that led the farmers' agitation over 2020 and 2021, drew attention to the latest round of the Situation Assessment Survey carried out by the National Statistical Organisation that had pegged the average monthly income of farmers at Rs 10,281. "Even with inflation adjusted, this turns out to be roughly about 20 per cent more, not double. Also, considering the income from all sources, the income has actually gone down in four major states," Yadav said.
As he said for the date, Dalwai clarified that in this case too, the evaluation would be done only after March 2023 and this is too early to say anything about the actual numbers.
Dalwai, however, put forth data to support that the government is on the right track. "Our endeavour was to increase the per unit yield — be it per Ha, per cattle, per unit plantation, per unit poultry, fisheries, meat or milk. Data shows that we have achieved that in several measures."
For instance, compared to the 2015-16 benchmark year, food grain production has increased from 257 million tonnes (MT) to 315 MT; horticulture production has increased from 200 MT to 355 MT and fish is today 14 MT and so on and so forth.
Another aspect, Dalwai pointed out is the success in marketing achieved in these many years. "We have improved Minimum Support Price (MSP), especially since 2018 when we adopted the new policy. We are now offering better MSP to pulses, millets and oil seeds," the bureaucrat said.
Exactly which farmers benefitted?
Another question that has been debated is — as in the case of that farmer from Ratlam whose video went viral — exactly which farmers are benefitting? Is the doubling of income at all going to help the small and marginal farmers?
The government has claimed that the Rs 6,000 being given to the farmers as part of the Kisan Samman Nidhi should also be counted in farmers' income and to defend its status, said, this is an open-ended scheme, the government can run it as long as it wants to.
Countered Yadav, "On the ground, this money is not reaching as many farmers as the government claims to have reached. Moreover, if the government is offering money through one hand, it is also taking away through another, and taking away more by way of steep increase in the cost of petrol, diesel, fertilizers and power bills."
Pointing out that almost 85-86 per cent of farmers are small landholding farmers in India, Dalwai said, with increased MSP, with increased procurement, "from whom is the government procuring? Who is benefitting?"
Obviously, it is these small land holding farmers, he said. "Those who criticize, do so on the anecdotal basis. Let us wait for the empirical data."
Another front on which the government has succeeded in bringing in moolah for the farmers is the e-nam portal wherein 1,000 Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs) have been linked, Dalwai said. Capital investment in farming has increased in these years, be it animal husbandry, be it fisheries or even Pradhan Mantri Formalisation of Micro-food Processing Enterprises (PMFME).
Be it part of the Parliament questions, be it on its vast social media machinery or even some adverts in the mass media/legacy media, all that the government has been doing is presenting the data in a manner that claims increased income for the farmers but there has been no official assessment, there has been no interim report (at least, not in the public domain) and there has been no monitoring mechanism.
Said a source, "The repeal of three farm laws was a set back of sorts for this process of doubling farmers' income. It will take time to set the situation right."
But a clear give away, if it can be called so, is the fact that the BJP's Kisan Morcha has now been tasked with spreading awareness about doubling farmers' income.