Mission 2019: Yogi govt loosens the purse strings to keep farmers happy

As protesters clashed with the police on the Uttar Pradesh-Delhi border on October 2, Yogi Adityanath at a hurriedly convened news conference blamed previous regimes for the agrarian distress Photo: PTI
On October 2, when leading news channels were beaming live the farmers’ protest march to the national capital and subsequent clash with police on the Uttar Pradesh-Delhi border, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath at a hurriedly convened news conference blamed previous regimes for the agrarian distress, and enumerated various schemes launched by the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments at the Centre and in the state to buttress his claim of toeing a definitive pro-farm agenda. The well-organised protest over pending farm issues was deftly resolved within 24 hours, bringing the much-needed sigh of relief in the Chief Minister's Office (CMO).

Nonetheless, in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, the Adityanath government is ready to walk the extra mile to keep farmers in good humour. Any anti-farmer perception, with hardly six months for the crucial voting, could severely dent the electoral prospects of the saffron party, especially when opposition parties are striving for an alliance, even as some opinion polls are indicating a revival of sorts for the Congress under Rahul Gandhi.

Since UP accounts for the most Lok Sabha seats (80), it is always the priority state for any political outfit dreaming of ruling at the Centre. In fact, the BJP's stupendous show in the 2014 polls, when it had scooped 73 seats (including two by its ally, Apna Dal),  in UP was one of the prime reasons for the party gaining majority and subsequently forming the government under Narendra Modi.

The Adityanath government is taking a multi-pronged approach to remunerating farmers, especially through timely and adequate payouts for the purchase of three main cash crops -- sugarcane, paddy and wheat.

Last year, the government had fulfilled its flagship pre-poll promise of crop loan waiver to the tune of Rs 360 billion, targeted to benefit more than 8 million small and marginal farmers. Since many farmers could not avail of the benefits owing to a multitude of factors during last fiscal, the state has already extended the scheme to this financial year and allocated about Rs 40 billion.

During 2017-18, Adityanath had claimed the farmers were paid nearly Rs 800 billion directly in their bank accounts. However, it had also factored in the crop loan waiver corpus of Rs 360 billion, of which almost Rs 14 billion could not be disbursed due to the weeding out of ineligible applicants. Besides, the direct benefits comprised total payables of more than Rs 350 billion on sugar mills.

In the current financial year, direct payments to UP farmers are now expected to the tune of Rs 600 billion. State Agriculture Minister Surya Pratap Shahi told Business Standard, the sugarcane payments alone this year were expected to be about Rs 360 billion due to higher acreage. “Besides, the paddy and wheat payments, according to the minimum support price (MSP) mechanism, are likely to be more than Rs 160 billion.” 

Recently, the CM had fixed November 2018 as the deadline for the private sugar mills to settle farmers' outstanding that currently stand at about Rs 90 billion. To support millers in the current spate of sugar crisis, the state had also made a provision of Rs 40 billion to be offered as soft loans to pay farmers directly in their accounts. The mills would be charged nominal interest.

To remunerate farmers, the state is targeting to procure 5 million tonnes (MT) of paddy in the current Kharif season 2018-19 during the October-February period. Earlier, UP had hiked the MSP by Rs 180-Rs 200 per quintal to Rs 1,750-Rs 1,770 per quintal, depending on the grade of paddy. The government had announced an additional bonus of Rs 20 per quintal over MSP. This way, the farmers would pocket Rs 185 to Rs 205 per quintal more than last year for their paddy crop.

If the government is able to achieve its paddy procurement target of 5 MT, the payout to farmers is likely to be more than Rs 85 billion.

Besides, the government plans to procure potato, pulses and oilseeds too. In fact, the government has written to the Centre expressing its intention to procure urad and moong in the coming season. The direct transfers would also pertain to various farm sector subsidies, including seed.

Further, the state plans to distribute about 8,000 tonnes of improved varieties of wheat, gram and pulses seeds to improve productivity. “We expect that if the farmers use these improved varieties, their productivity would increase by 15-20 per cent, which would add to their profitability,” Shahi noted.

Meanwhile, the government is gearing up to hold a mega farmers conclave ‘Krishi Kumbh 2018’ in Lucknow later this month. Around 100,000 farmers, scientists, entrepreneurs, public and private representatives are expected at the global event for promoting modern farming for higher farm income.

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