Mumbai: Faced with demands for a waiver of farm debt amid continuing farmers suicides in Maharashtra, the state government on Monday set a target of doubling farm income by 2022 through a string of measures.
These include sustainable development, marketing support, crop insurance, water conservation, expanding irrigation coverage, agriculture diversification, raising farm productivity and bringing more farmers under formal credit, governor Vidyasagar Rao told both houses of the Maharashtra legislature on the opening day of the budget session on Monday.
The opposition Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) tried to set the agenda for the session by raising slogans demanding farm-debt waiver during the governor’s address.
Provisional figures released by Maharashtra’s relief and rehabilitation department show 3,052 farmers took their lives in 2016. In 2015, the state reported 3,228 farm suicides, the highest since 2001 when 3,536 farmers took their lives. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 2,568 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra in 2014.
Rao said around eight million farmers in Maharashtra have been covered under the centre’s soil health card scheme, and that the remaining 5.5 million would be covered in the next fiscal. In drought-prone Marathwada, the government is planning to bring 125,000 hectares under micro irrigation in the next three years.
The state government has decided to implement micro-irrigation on a large scale to try and hit the national average of irrigation potential at 77%.
It will also prioritize the completion of 26 irrigation projects in the next three years to create an additional irrigation potential covering 556,000 hectares.
Under the Devendra Fadnavis government’s flagship water conservation programme, Jalyukta Shivar, launched in December 2014 to address chronic drought in Marathwada, Vidarbha, North Maharashtra, and South Central Maharashtra, more than 250,000 conservation works have been completed which have created storage capacity of 1.2 million thousand cu. m of water.
Under this programme, around 9,000 farm ponds have been constructed specifically to provide relief to drought-affected farmers.
The governor said the government has ensured the expansion of formal crop credit coverage.
In the year 2016-17, around 300,000 farmers were registered as members of primary agriculture credit societies. In the current fiscal year, 4.8 million farmers have been disbursed crop credit of Rs33,115 crore, said the governor.
He said the government has restructured farm debt of Rs5,124 crore to help 685,000 famers.
“The restructuring helped 439,000 farmers become eligible for fresh credit of Rs3,276 crore,” Rao said.
Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, leader of the opposition in the assembly, said: “A delegation of opposition leaders met the governor on Sunday and demanded that directives be issued to the state government to announce farm debt-waiver in view of the severe agrarian crisis and rise in the number of farmers’ suicides in the past three years. We expected that the Governor would make some announcement but the governor’s address has let the farmers down.”
Vidarbha-based farm activist Vijay Jawandhiya quoted agriculture scientist M. S. Swaminathan as saying that farmers’ income should be used to measure agriculture growth. “Fadnavis says his government will double farmers’ income in five years, but does not elaborate how,” Jawandhiya added.