Punjab farmers give thumbs down to Budget provisions | union-budget | Hindustan Times
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Punjab farmers give thumbs down to Budget provisions

“The budget is far removed from reality.” That is how young Meet Pal Singh, an MBA who has set up a polyhouse in Mahalon village of Nawanshahr, dismisses the budget. The tall light-eyed youth, who is feted as a progressive farmer in the area, says the Modi government should first focus on implementing the MS Swaminathan report for farmers before coming up with a new set of proposals.

union budget Updated: Feb 02, 2017 12:41 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
What surprises farmers is the government’s inability to fix their main problem: Assured marketing of crops other than wheat and paddy.
What surprises farmers is the government’s inability to fix their main problem: Assured marketing of crops other than wheat and paddy.(HT Representative Image)

“The budget is far removed from reality.” That is how young Meet Pal Singh, an MBA who has set up a polyhouse in Mahalon village of Nawanshahr, dismisses the budget. The tall light-eyed youth, who is feted as a progressive farmer in the area, says the Modi government should first focus on implementing the MS Swaminathan report for farmers before coming up with a new set of proposals.

Dr PS Rangi, economic consultant to Punjab State Farmers’ Commission, ridiculed the budgetary promise to double the agricultural income in five years. “We are already overdrawing our soil, how do they plan to squeeze it further? It’s not possible. And as for increasing the loans, NABARD is already giving sufficient loans.”

What surprises farmers is the government’s inability to fix their main problem: Assured marketing of crops other than wheat and paddy. Amardeep Singh, a small farmer at Malpur Arkan village in SBS Nagar district, says he is tired of growing rice, for it forces him to dig deeper for water every year. “I grew potatoes this year, but they fetched me a mere Rs.5 per kilo, which doesn’t even cover the cost of production, even though they sell for Rs 20 a kilo in the retail market.”

Meet Pal says he started growing gerbera, but had to stop after two years to cut his losses as he was getting a petty Rs 1 per stick, while the florist at Amritsar, two hours away, was selling it for Rs 75. “It is this gap that the government must focus on bridging if it wants the farmers to diversify for more gains.”

Dr Rangi also dismisses the government’s proposal of e-marketing, saying the Punjab Marketing Reforms Act 2003 is yet to be implemented. “Around 80% to 85% of the farmers in India have a landholding of 2 hectares or less. They are not literate enough to benefit from an e-portal. Why don’t they make policies that can be implemented on the ground? ”

Execution is an issue with crop insurance as well. Kuljinder Singh, one of the leading farmers of Doaba with a large landholding, says increase in insurance doesn’t make any difference unless there is a structure to ensure implementation. Citing his own case, Singh says it’s been three years and he is yet to get compensation for wheat crop that was destroyed when an electricity cable fell on the field and ignited a fire. “I have pictures with officials as the witnesses, yet my file hasn’t moved an inch. How can you expect a poor farmer who is tilling an NRI’s land to get insurance. As per the rules, only the owner can claim it.”

Citing another example of non-implementation, Meet Pal rues that he has been running his polyhouse on a genset for the last three years as he is yet to get the promised free electricity from the Punjab government.

Mohinder Singh, a farmer at Jagatpur village near Banga, who won the United Nations prize for wheat production in 1986, is upset because the budget hasn’t allocated any funds for research. A member of Punjab Agricultural University’s research council, Mohinder says there can’t be any advancement in agriculture if there is no research to develop new seeds suitable for small farmers.

Most damning is the general refrain that the so-called prioritisation of agriculture is a mere gimmick for getting votes in the poll-bound states. A farmer’s wife sums it up: “Jat di dukaan da rab hi aasra hai (A farmer is at the mercy of God).”