(Photo: PTI)
(Photo: PTI)

Opinion | PM-KISAN may prove to be only a temporary relief

As more states go to elections, they will also come up with schemes similar to PM-Kisan

The best face of the Indian administration comes out during calamities and elections. Direct income support to farmers is going to be added to the list of achievements of district administration.

In state governments, revenue departments are at the core of district administration and among their myriad responsibilities, the most important is to maintain land records for agricultural land. From a village patwari to a collector, the revenue machinery is the back bone of district administration. Even if there is paucity of time to meticulously identify the families eligible for Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) scheme and link their bank accounts for disbursing 20,000 crore in the run-up to the general elections, the target is likely to be met in most states. In the process, there will be more errors of inclusion than exclusion. Many undeserving families will get the payment and the officers will reply to CAG (Comptroller and Auditor General) queries and will face enquiries in years to come.

In ‘Rythu Bandhu’, Telangana took about nine months of a systematic campaign through agriculture and revenue officials to clean up the records of 5.8 million land holdings. The promise was to disburse 8,000 per acre per year. Aadhaar was linked to the land account and barcoded passbooks were issued to farmers. The government has paid 4,724 crore to about 5 million farmers so far.

The election victory of Telangana Rashtriya Samithi in the 2018 assembly elections was attributed by media and political parties to the success of Rythu Bandhu. Odisha announced the Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (Kalia), effective the rabi season of 2018 and promised 10,000 per year to small and marginal farmers (SMFs) and vulnerable agricultural households, and 12,500 per year to the landless.

The Odisha government wanted to disburse the money before the assembly elections. It was neither possible to update the land records nor to identify the landless and vulnerable households. So, the state government came up with the idea of using other databases such as soil health cards, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) to identify the deserving beneficiaries. The first instalment of 5,000 has already been disbursed among about 1.2 million SMFs and 300,000 landless farmers.

PM-Kisan announced in the interim budget of 2019-20 that 6,000 per year will be distributed in three instalments to SMFs. Landless and agricultural labourers are not covered in the central scheme and, more importantly, the states will not have to share any part of this grant.

On the recommendation of the 14th Finance Commission in 2015, the centre had increased the devolution of taxes to states from 32% to 42% of divisible pool. The Union budget of 2015-16 discontinued a number of centrally sponsored schemes and the share of states was increased from 10% to 40% for several important programmes.

The state governments not having a stake in PM-Kisan may give political advantage to the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government in elections, but it will only encourage the states to announce their own schemes along similar lines. Andhra Pradesh has already decided to add 9,000 per annum to the 6,000 of PM-Kisan. Thus, SMF in Andhra Pradesh will get 15,000 per year. Not stopping there, it has announced that bigger farmers will also get 10,000 per annum from state resources.

As more states go to elections, they will also come up with similar schemes. We should worry that better targeting of subsidies (through direct payments) and enhanced investment in agriculture may now be on the back burner, even for the new central government.

Demonetization and low global prices are believed to be major reasons for rock-bottom market prices of most crops in the last three years.

Direct income support will compensate them to some extent, but without substantial investment in agriculture, it may prove to be only a temporary relief.

Siraj Hussain is a retired Union agriculture secretary. He is currently a visiting senior fellow at think tank Icrier.

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