New Delhi: Improving access to irrigation, connecting farmers to markets and protecting them against weather risks through insurance are among focus areas of the government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his Independence Day speech on Tuesday.

“We want to build an India where the farmer can sleep without worry and in peace… (knowing) they will earn double their current incomes by 2022 (the 75th year of India’s independence)," the Prime Minister said barely minutes before ending his speech, in a message to farmers who have been protesting in several states since June following a crash in crop prices and rising indebtedness.

Despite bad weather, farmers produced a record quantity of foodgrain and pulses in 2016-17, the Prime Minister said, adding that the government encouraged them by procuring a record 1.6 million tonnes of pulses.

“In India, procurement of pulses was not traditional (policy) and what we did was historic," Modi said.

Modi said that over 10 million new farmers have enrolled under revamped crop insurance scheme Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) that was launched in 2016.

“Three years ago 3.25 crore farmers had crop insurance and now 5.75 crore farmers are covered," Modi said.

Promising that his government will strive to provide water to India’s rain-dependent farms, over half of which do not have any form of assured irrigation, the Prime Minister said that over the past year, 21 pending irrigation projects have been completed under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayi Yojana (PMKSY). “We will complete all 99 large irrigation projects by 2019," Modi said.

Modi said that his government will strive to connect farmers to the market through an efficient supply chain, investments in infrastructure and food processing, and by encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI) in agriculture. Every year crores of rupees worth of farm produce is wasted in India and the government had introduced a new scheme, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sampada Yojana, to address this, the Prime Minister said.

Modi’s speech comes in the backdrop of massive protests by farmers across India that began in June, demanding remunerative crop prices and loan waivers. A record harvest of foodgrain and perishables like fruits and vegetable in 2016-17, coupled with the cash crunch following the government’s demonetization drive in November last year, led to a crash in wholesale prices and lower incomes for farmers.

“The Prime Minister’s speech is a disappointment for farmers since there was not even an acknowledgement that they are in distress and (at times) forced to commit suicide," said Yogendra Yadav, member of Jai Kisan Andolan, a farmers’ movement, and president of political party Swaraj Abhiyan.

“The focus of his speech and government policy remains on production rather than the producer," he added.

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