New Delhi: Though initially in denial, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government seems to be stringing together a strategy to address the problem of rural distress.

On the heels of increasing the minimum support price (MSP) for paddy and helping milk farmers, the NDA has plans to increase the eligible work days under the rural employment safety net by 50% to 150 days.

Rural distress has been brought on by a combination of factors. The end of the global commodity super cycle has meant that output prices for farmers are falling, even as they are yet to recover from the drought of last year and the spell of unseasonal rainfall that caused extensive damage to winter crops.

A blueprint has already been drawn up for increasing the minimum number of days of employment provided in rural areas from 100 at present to 150, two officials from the rural development ministry said on Thursday.

“These are plans that have been drawn up. We have to wait and see how the monsoon progresses, it’s still early days. The Centre has taken this decision as it expects an increased demand for wage-based employment on public works as regular agricultural activities will be affected in drought-hit areas," one of the officials cited above said on condition that he should not be identified.

Another official, also on condition of anonymity, said the blueprint “has been sent to the finance ministry for its approval. The proposal will then go to the cabinet for its clearance".

Plans to increase the number of mandatory workdays under the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is one of a series of steps taken by the government this week to alleviate rural distress.

Last week, addressing a press conference in Chandigarh, rural development minister Chaudhary Birender Singh said the government will “make provision of 150 days (of work) so that people do not face problems in getting employment".

The plan is being worked out “in view of a forecast of a 12% deficient monsoon this year", he said.

The MGNREGS was introduced by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2006 as an antidote to distress migration from rural areas and suicides by debt-burdened farmers due to failing rain.

Activities undertaken under the ambit of MGNREGS include the construction of check dams, ponds, irrigation canals and minor irrigation projects.

“These are some steps to alleviate farm distress but much more needs to be done. In the case of MGNREGS, the government needs to look at drought-proofing steps and not just rainwater harvesting," said N.C. Saxena, a former rural development secretary.

Uncertainty prevails over the progress of the monsoon this year with some forecasts predicting deficient rain. The June-September monsoon is critical for the kharif crop as over half of the cultivable land in India lacks irrigation facilities.

Agricultural growth was a poor 0.2% in 2014-15 and foodgrain production dipped by over 5%.

On Wednesday, the cabinet decided to increase the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy by 50. The government also raised the MSP for all pulses and gave 200 per quintal as a bonus over the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices proposal.

To give a boost to the technology needs of farmers, the cabinet also approved Rs3,900 crore for establishment of Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) and strengthening existing KVKs. These bodies look into transfer of the latest technology and farm research and serve as a link for overall rural development in districts.

The cabinet also approved the inclusion of Uttarakhand, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh in the list of states to be covered under the National Dairy Plan Phase- I (NDP-1). The project is designed to improve productivity of milch animals and providing rural milk producers greater access to the organized milk processing market.

Earlier, the government had made it easier for farmers to claim compensation for crop damage.

In its meeting last week, the cabinet cleared a soft loan of 6,000 crore to ailing sugar mills in the country to make it easier for them to pay off farmers. The government has also taken steps to open up closed fertiliser factories to increase the availability of urea in the country.

“These are steps with the right intent in the right direction," said Ashok Gulati, an agriculture expert with the New Delhi-based economic think-tank ICRIER. “But to turn things around in the farm sector, you need many more and significant steps. What is needed is a major leap to stem the stagnation that has come into the sector," he added.

Close