Farmers were ignored before 2014, says agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh
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Farmers were ignored before 2014, says agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh

The people have seen this government’s performance... the ‘lehar’ (wave) in favour of Modi is stronger than 2014, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh tells HT in an interview. Excerpts:

india Updated: Jun 11, 2018 09:08 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
New Delhi, Hindustan Times
Radha Mohan Singh,Farmers,Agriculture minister
Union minister of agriculture Radha Mohan Singh. (HT File Photo)

At a time when rural distress and farmer agitations across states have taken centre stage, Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh spoke to Hindustan Times about the government’s effort to alleviate farmers, minimum support price, farm suicides, and the impact of the unrest on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Edited excerpts:

The government promised to double farm income by 2022. What progress has been made in this regard?

The Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had, in February 2004, set up the National Commission of Farmers. It was formed to bring reforms in the agriculture sector and increase farm income. When we came to power in 2014, we found that its recommendations were lying in cold storage for the last 10 years. We started by setting up an interministerial committee to examine how to increase farm incomes and accelerate these initiatives. We then started implementing the suggestions of the committee. A model act was passed to allow land leasing for agriculture, which ensures institutional credit and other facilities to leaseholders while safeguarding the rights of the land owners.

A national agriculture market scheme – eNAM – brought a revolution in the agriculture market. The last meeting had happened in 2010 and nothing had moved until we came to power in 2014. An amount of ?2,000 crore has also been proposed in 2018 through NABARD (National Bank For Agriculture And Rural Development) for the development of 22,000 rural agricultural markets in the country. We then released the Agricultural Produce and Livestock Marketing (Promotion and Simplification) Act, 2017 for adoption by states. This comprises e-business, the announcement of warehouses, silos, cold storage in the form of sub-yards, rationalisation of mandi duty and commission charges and improvements in the private sector.

The world’s largest farmer-friendly crop insurance scheme was launched to provide a safety net to farmers from natural calamities. There was a burden on national exchequer, but it ensured proper compensation. As many as 99 projects were pending for more than 20-25 years for want of proper budgetary allocation. We earmarked ?40,000 crore for this, and 18 projects are already complete. More than 80-90% of works are complete in relation with 55 projects.

The farmers’ commission laid special focus on micro irrigation. During 2017-18, about 9.26 lakh hectare area has been brought under micro irrigation, which is the maximum coverage so far in a calendar year. The target is to cover 1.5 to 2 million hectare per year by 2022-23. In addition to the increase in budgetary allocation, a corpus fund of Rs 5,000 crore has also been set up. The number of soil laboratories has gone up from 40-50 to over 9,200. Soil health cards were never made, but now all farmers are covered. Those who are using it are able to bring down the input cost and increase productivity.

We worked in the allied sector too — there is a 30% increase in income of dairy farmers, fishery production has increased from 355 lakh tons in 2010-14 to 450 lakh tons in 2014-18, egg production has increased by 25%. Those who question our claim about doubling farm incomes are the people who talked about India of the 21st century in 1980 — 34 years were wasted but nothing happened. Our work in the last four years is showing results.

Your election manifesto spoke of giving 50% profit over the cost of production. But some farmer organisation are blaming you for changing the formula to determine the cost of production.

The government has announced in the Union budget for 2018-19 to keep the Minimum Support Price (MSP) at 1.5 times the cost of production. MSP is notified for 24 commodities. Out of this, the MSP was already 1.5 times the cost of production for 13 commodities. For Kharif 2018, MSP for the remaining 11 commodities will be fixed as per the budget announcement. There is an allegation that farmers do not get the MSP for their produce. If the MSP for paddy is Rs 1,500, they get only Rs 1,100. This is true. Which formula should be applied? It is the same formula people are talking about. The issue relates to those 11 commodities, and whether we can ensure 1.5 time of their cost of production. There is another issue related to pulses, oilseeds and cotton.

When we came to power, the Agriculture Cooperative Marketing Federation of India was on the brink of closure. It was looted. We revived it. Up to December 2017, the procurement of pulses, oilseeds and cotton increased to 62 lakh MT (metric tonnes), as against 16 lakh MT in the four years preceding the Narendra Modi government.

The PM has announced that all commodities will get 1.5 times the cost of production. We are talking to every state government, because they are responsible for purchase.

Why is there anger among farmers when you claim to have done so much for them?

The farmers are problem-ridden. The situation is such because nothing has been done for them. The budget (provision for agriculture) in the five years before the Modi government was just Rs 1 lakh crore.

In this budget, the provision for agriculture is over Rs 2 lakh crore. If this had happened earlier, things would have been different. They should be ashamed of it — I am talking about that leader (Congress president Rahul Gandhi) whose family ruled this country for 48 years. They kept raising slogans about farmers and the poor and remained committed to strengthening the dynasty. Only Lal Bahadur Shastri and Atal Bihar Vajpayee thought about farmers. We not only increased allocation, but even spent additional money outside the budget. The focus is on creating infrastructure that has been pending for years.

How will you communicate all this to the protesting farmers?

The poor and the farmers know everything. Earlier, only big people had access to gas, electricity and toilets. Now this is reaching to common man under the Narendra Modi government. In the field of agriculture, there were instances where Krishi Vigyan Kendras are with big people. Now we have announced that they it will be operated only by institutions.There is another issue related to agriculture loans. The target has been fixed at Rs 11 lakh crore — up from Rs 8 lakh crore — in 2018-19.

In the four years preceding us, the amount of loans and subsidy to agriculture cooperatives through the National Cooperative Development Corporation was a meagre Rs 15,000-16,000 crore. In our four years, it stands at Rs 50,000 crore. There is transparency.

Despite all this, more than 11,000 people related to agriculture sector committed suicide in 2016. Why is this?

Suicide is bad. There should have been investment in empowering the farmers. There was a lack of it. We are trying to correct it by implementing the recommendations of the farmers commission that were in cold storage.

Do you see farm loan waivers as a tool to empower farmers?

There is a central scheme under which we give certain subsidy on interest over agricultural loans. We take care of 3% and the farmers’ pay the rest 4%. Some state governments take that burden and pay the 4%. If a state government does it, I will congratulate them. After the 14th Finance Commission, the devolution of funds has increased to states, and if some state government spends money on farmers’ welfare, I appreciate this.

Do you think state government should be more sensitive towards protests by farmers?

Even rivals accept that Madhya Pradesh is number one in carrying out welfare schemes for farmers. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is the best in terms of working for farmers. What has the (Gandhi) family done in 48 years?

When we have spoken about villages, poor and farmers; we have done a lot for their welfare in states where we came to power. We did not only raise slogans.

Is Madhya Pradesh is facing problems because of overproduction?

The Centre frames policy and has a role in making investments. MP is the state where procurement is the highest, it has the infrastructure and the storage capacity. It was the first state to offer interest-free farm loans. Three states — Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana — have done exceptionally well in connecting its market to e-NAM.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had promised in Uttar Pradesh that payment to sugarcane farmers will be made within 14 days of selling their produce. But, the dues piled up to an unprecedented level.

When we came to power, there were huge dues. Earlier, when the Centre used to give relief to sugarcane mills, it was pocketed by the owners and the money did not reach farmers. We ensured that it reached the farmers. We have found a permanent solution to the problem. We have fixed a price for sugar, create a buffer stock and make payment so that farmers get their due.

Was it also done because the BJP was defeated in the Kairana Lok Sabha by-election, in which sugarcane was a big issue?

Where was Kairana when we came to power and the dues to farmers was at an unprecedented level? But we tried to solve that problem. We took the burden on the exchequer but provided relief . We have seen governments in the past where the PM said a particular section had first claim on resources. My PM says farmers have the first right on the country’s resources.

Do you think that farmer unrest will have a bearing on impending assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan?

Those who are trying to raise the issue have ruled this country for 48 years, and the benefits that they gave reached only them or a certain section of society. This is the first time facilities have reached the poor and farmers. They are standing by the PM because they have seen and suffered the other side.

What is your prediction for the 2019 Lok Sabha election?

The BJP will win hands down. I said earlier that it is for the first time that facilities and services, such as gas, electricity and others, are reaching the poor. They have seen this government’s performance. I think the ‘lehar’ (wave) in favour of Modi is stronger than 2014.

What do you make of anti-BJP forces coming together?

Some of them are facing criminal charges, some are out on bail after being convicted in corruption cases; some others are struggling for political survival. Their coming together shows the PM is doing the right thing.

First Published: Jun 11, 2018 09:07 IST