Devendra Fadnavis prepares farm outreach plan
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Mumbai: Pushed on the back foot by opposition protests over the crisis in Maharashtra’s agriculture sector, the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has decided to go for a farm outreach programme. The party will also launch a samvad yatra (dialogue march) to counter the opposition’s ongoing sangharsh yatra (struggle march) on farm issues.
The two initiatives, part of the birth centenary celebrations of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya, come in the backdrop of a strident demand for farm loan waiver and a recent mess over government procurement of tur dal.
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who announced the samvad yatra at the BJP’s state executive meeting last week, has also asked BJP workers to reach out to at least 2.5 million farmers across the state.
Opposition parties, however, criticize the outreach as a “damage-control exercise launched by a nervous government”.
Congress leader and leader of the opposition in legislative assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil said the “spontaneous response by farmers to the opposition’s sangharsh yatra has made the chief minister nervous and that is why he is talking of samvad yatra. The government has lost all connect with farmers, especially tur farmers,” Vikhe-Patil said.
Maharashtra Congress president and former chief minister Ashok Chavan objected to what he termed “insulting and unbecoming language” used by Fadnavis in targeting the opposition. “No chief minister in Maharashtra’s 57-year-long history has ever called the opposition shameless and insensitive. But we don’t mind if the chief minister uses even worse words for us, provided he also grants a farm loan waiver immediately,” Chavan said on Sunday.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Dhananjay Munde held Fadnavis personally responsible for what he called the “tur procurement mess”. Much of the tur dal this year has not been procured as promised by the state government.
Pointing out the wide gap between the final estimates made in the state’s Economic Survey for 2016-17 and the actual tur yield, Munde demanded the suspension of the principal secretary, agriculture department, for allegedly misleading the government. The economic survey estimated a yield of 1.17 million tonnes while the actual yield is likely to be 2.35 million tonnes as per the latest data put out by the state’s agriculture marketing department.
The opposition-sponsored sangharsha yatra, launched on 29 March, wound up its third phase in western Maharashtra last week around the same time when the BJP state executive council was meeting. Fadnavis attacked Congress and NCP and held them responsible for the farmers’ plight. “The people who with their wrong policies have pushed farmers in the throes of a severe crisis are now organizing sangharsha yatra in the name of farmers,” Fadnavis said. He added that the only thing the sangharsha yatra had achieved was to bring out the opposition leaders on streets after 17 years.
BJP officials, however, concede that the farm outreach has been planned as a response to the opposition unity on farm issues. While Fadnavis has claimed that government agencies have procured a record 400,000 tonnes of tur, which is much higher than the entire tur procured by the Congress-NCP government in 10 years, the BJP functionaries point out that the yield had also increased nearly five-fold in 2016-17. A state BJP functionary admitted the farm outreach is a “direct consequence of opposition’s sangharsha yatra”.
“Within days of the opposition launching their agitation, the chief minister started a televized dialogue with farmers on the (state-owned) Doordarshan channel Sahyadri. Now, he has called for a samvad yatra to explain to farmers why loan waiver is not the solution to the agrarian crisis and how the government is making capital investments in the farm sector for long term solutions. Honestly, the opposition unity and sustenance has surprised us,” said the BJP functionary requesting anonymity.
Fadnavis has also set other targets for the BJP ministers and cadres. All ministers have to make sure that farm loan fairs are organized in their districts and a large number of farmers are covered under institutional crop credit system. This year, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development has projected a target of Rs3.36 lakh crore credit disbursement to the priority sector in Maharashtra, including Rs86,836 crore as agriculture credit. Fadnavis has asked BJP ministers to make sure this target is achieved.