The Narendra Modi government’s widely-publicised farm insurance programme has hit a wall in Bihar, where chief minister Nitish Kumar has raised several red flags — right from the name of the scheme to its actual beneficiaries.
To begin with, Kumar is against the very name: “Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana” (PMFBY) or Prime Minister’s farm insurance programme.
Bihar is the only state that has decided to roll out the scheme, albeit reluctantly, as a limited test-run. The administration alleges that the programme is designed to the advantage of insurance companies than farmers.
A series of exchanges between of Bihar cooperative minister Alok Kumar Mehta and Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh, a fellow Bihari, shows polite but firm exchanges on the issue.
The PMFBY, which seeks to provide farmers with uniformly low premium that would help them sustain agriculture even if the yield is damaged, was launched by Modi on January 13.
The technicalities of the scheme have been a matter of spar between Bihar and the Modi government, apart from deep political differences.
“We have objections to the programme’s name,” Mehta told HT. “The farm insurance scheme is equally funded by both the Centre and the state. Then why is it called PM’s programme?”
The Nitish Kumar-led Bihar government’s stand is that the scheme should be named “PM-CM programme” to reflect the joint funding pattern. Kumar had strongly raised the issue during a meeting of the National Development Council last month.
If the Centre did not want to change the name, then Modi government should increase its funding share, Kumar argued at the meet. Under the scheme, while farmers pay only 2% premium, the Centre and states share the rest equally.
On Monday, the prime minister said in his Red Fort speech that his government was working to double farm income and providing crop insurance cover on minimum premium.
Mehta said it was only on an “experimental basis” that Bihar decided to roll out the PMFBY. “We wanted to respect cooperative federalism,” he added.
The minister demanded rationalisation of the premium, saying his state stood to lose money due to the design of the scheme. “Buxar in Bihar and Balia in UP are bordering states with the same agro-climatic conditions,” he said. “The premium rate quoted in Balia is 2%, it is 25% in Buxar. Why?”
The minister said Bihar wants to draw attention to it “not as a joke, but as a serious matter”.
The Union agriculture minister, in his letter to Mehta on August 9, said the Centre did not have any role in deciding these premiums. It would be unfortunate for Bihar farmers if the government did not implement the PMFBY, he added.
When Bihar eventually decided to roll out the scheme on a trial, Singh gave a back-handed compliment. “Bihar is going to implement it. I do not know whether to thank the Bihar government or God for making good sense prevail on it,” he said.