Hyderabad: Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) President and Nalgonda MP N. Uttam Kumar Reddy on Tuesday demanded that the BJP Government at the Centre either reduce the GST on fertilisers and agriculture machinery to zero or place it in the lowest slab. He also demanded payment of Rs. 6,000 Minimum Support Price (MSP) for cotton and establishment of a Turmeric Board for Nizamabad farmers. He also demanded new legislation to help tenant farmers.
Initiating the debate on demands for grants of the ministries of Rural Development and Agriculture and Farmers Welfare in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, Uttam Kumar Reddy accused the BJP Government of paying ‘lip service’ to the cause of farmers and not taking any concrete measure to resolve the agrarian crisis. “Indian farmer is today in the midst of a serious agrarian crisis with more than 30 farmers committing suicide each day,” he said.
Uttam Kumar Reddy pointed out that the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare was expected to spend Rs. 75,753 Crores in the year 2018-19 as per Revised Estimates. However, he said that the Provisional Accounts maintained by the CGA shows that the expenditure was only Rs. 53,000 crore which is Rs. 22,000 Crore was less than the Revised Estimate which is a shortfall of 29%. “Despite 65-70% of our population directed or indirectly dependent on agriculture, the present government’s low priority to agriculture, inadequate support prices, inefficient procurement systems, flawed crop insurance mechanism and many such policies and decisions have pushed the Indian farming community into an existential crisis,” he said.
The Congress MP reminded that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, during his visit to Nizamabad for the election campaign, had promised to establish a Turmeric Board. Therefore, he said that the Centre must honour its promise and set up the board at the earliest.
He said Goods and Services Tax on tractors and agricultural machinery has increased the input cost of farmers. Therefore, fertilisers, tractors and machines should be exempted from GST or brought in the lowest slab. As he made this his demand, BJD member Bhartruhari Mahtab, who was in the Chair, lauded it and asked why the GST rate should not be zero.
The Congress MP also slammed the BJP Government for not publishing the data of farmers’ suicides. “Tragedy of this government is that they do not want to see the grim reality of the frightening scenario that the Indian farmer faces. Instead of trying to stop suicides, the government decided to stop the publication of data,” he said. He also pointed out that the NCRB has stopped publishing its report from 2016 onwards. He said NCRB was first merged with the Bureau of Police Research and Development in 2016 and 10 months later it was de-merged. But the NCRB was still not published data on farmers’ suicides, he said.
Uttam Kumar Reddy said that the worst sufferers were tenant farmers. While tenant farmers in Telangana constitute about 30% of total farmers, they are 15% in the rest of the country. Of 2.12 crore tenant farmers, almost all of them have no access to bank or institutional finance. They get no benefit from either PM Kishan Samman Yojna or crop insurance.
Consequently, they go-to money lenders, especially those who go for commercial crops. When crops fail, a large number of tenant farmers commits suicide. He informed that in the united Andhra Pradesh, the then government brought Licensed Cultivators Act to give legal sanctity to tenant farmers which made tenant farmers eligible for institutional finance. He urged the Centre to come up with similar legislation for tenant farmers.
The Congress MP also alleged that the BJP Government had no plan of action to fulfil its promise of doubling farmers’ income by 2022. “The government promised in its budget speech in 2016-17 that it will double farmers’ income by 2022. This was repeatedly emphasised by the Prime Minister. Now, three years have passed. It is the halfway point. Has the Government prepared any report on how far they have progressed on this promise? To achieve the goal, the incomes should have grown 13% every year for six years. The Economic survey of 2018 shows that the incomes have remained flat with almost no growth. Can the Agriculture minister in his reply let us know how much percentage of farmers’ income has grown from 2016 when the announcement was made up to now?” he asked.
He pointed out that the Economic Survey from January 2018 analyzed the issue of farmers’ income. On-Page 10, it says, “In the last four years, the level of real agricultural GDP and real agriculture revenues has remained constant.” Therefore, the growth rate in agricultural incomes over the first four years of NDA government was almost zero. Where does it stand now? he asked.
Further, he said on Page 95, Sec 6.44 of Economic Survey it was stated that the farmer income losses from climate change could be between 15% and 18% on average, rising to anywhere between 20% and 25% in non-irrigated areas. “This reflects the real situation being faced by farmers in the country. Without implementing concrete solutions, the government is talking about doubling farmers’ Incomes by 2022,” he said.
Uttam Kumar Reddy slammed the BJP Government for not giving proper MSP to farmers. He said that the BJP, during 2014 elections, had promised to increase MSP as per the recommendations of Swaminathan Commission. But in 2014, the government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that it is not possible to give 50% over and above the cost of production. On May 22, 2017, the then Agriculture Minister totally denied of having made any promise to implement the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendation on MSP. It again took a U-turn and in the budget speech of 2018-19, the then Finance Minister announced that the government would give MSP of input cost plus 50% as recommended by Swaminathan Commission. It went a step further to say that it was already implemented for a majority of Rabi crops.
“What they actually did was to use a lower definition of costs, so that they don’t have to give the high MSP they promised. In reality, the rise in MSP in Khariff in 2018-19 was not even high in percentage terms when compared to MSP raised in 2008-09 by UPA Government. In fact, during UPA-2, the average profit margin over cost of production was higher in almost all the crops compared to high MSP of last year,” he said adding that farmers, nowhere in the country, we’re able to sell their produce at MSP. He also alleged that the present MSP was not even 25% of the actual price recommended by the Commission which decides on agriculture pricing. “MSP recommended was much higher figure than what is finally approved by the government,” he said.
Stating that the PM- Asha scheme was started by the government to ensure that every farmer gets the benefit of MSP, he said the scheme was aimed at benefitting 14.5 crore farmers. However, he said that the scheme has turned into ‘Niraasha’ (Disappointment). He said cotton and chilli farmers are forced to sell their produce below MSP. “Calculations by experts show that at least Rs. 15,000 crore should be allocated for the scheme to make sure that a large number of farmers gets the MSP. But the budget speech of 2019-20 doesn’t even mention PM – AASHA and al allocation of only Rs. 1500 crore has been made for the same. With Rs. 1500 crore, does the government expect to make sure 14.50 crore farmers will get the benefit of MSP in all the crops?” he asked.
He demanded that the Central Government increase the MSP of cotton to at least Rs. 6,000.
Similarly, he said that Rs. 6,000 per family per year under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi was too meagre to make any difference to the farmer’s plight. “Giving Rs. 6,000 a year to a family of 5 is giving Rs. 3.30 per day to each member fo the family. Is this giving ‘Samman’ to the farmer?” he asked. Alleging that the government was completely disconnected from the reality of farmers, he said a farmer needs an investment of at least Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 25,000 per acre for cultivation. Therefore, giving Rs. 6,000 per year in 3 instalments would not help the farmers. Further, he said crores of tenant farmers, sharecroppers, landless agricultural workers, Adivasi farmers without pattas are not covered in this scheme, he said.
Uttam Kumar Reddy also alleged the PM Fasal Bima Yojana was a total failure and as against the targeted coverage of 50% of farmers’ holdings, the coverage was 29% in 2016-17 and only 24% in 2017-19 and it has further decreased in 2018-19. Instead of farmers, he said that the scheme has helped private insurance firms earn a profit of Rs. 3,000 crore in 2017-18 as revealed in the report of IRDA.