(Photo: Ramesh Pathania/ Mint)
(Photo: Ramesh Pathania/ Mint)

PM-Kisan will allow farmers to look at long-term investments: Vivek Agrawal

  • The structure of the scheme does not include tenant farmers as of now, but the government may take a stand later on
  • Once the first year is through and the farmers are assured that this kind of money is going to come to them every year

With the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in a hurry to implement the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, the income support scheme for small farmers, and release the first tranche of 2,000 each per family by 31 March, it has given the onerous responsibility to Vivek Agrawal, a 1994 batch Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer of the Madhya Pradesh cadre. In his first central deputation, Agrawal recently joined the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare as chief executive officer of the PM-Kisan scheme. Straight talking Agrawal is no stranger to delivering on marquee programmes such as Swachh Bharat mission, where he was responsible for turning Indore into India’s cleanest city.

The lawyer-turned-bureaucrat, who was earlier principal secretary (urban development) for Madhya Pradesh and also mission director for Swacch Bharat, handled agriculture for 10 years as principal secretary to former chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. Hailing from Punjab and with a family background in agriculture, Agrawal talked about the 75,000 crore scheme enabling farmers to look at long-term investments, getting 20-30% of the scheme’s database by 24 February, with it eventually benefitting 120 million families. Agrawal also said that in north-eastern states where land is owned by the village council, the person holding the lease may be treated as a beneficiary. Edited excerpts from an interview:

What is the total outlay of the scheme and do you see its ambit expanding further?

As of now, it’s about 75,000 crore for a year. That would mean that between 12 crore and 14 crore families will be covered after a proper database is created. I see it moving forward, not maybe as a budget outlay but as a scheme that would add a lot of value to the farmer’s activity and farming activity in the country. For example, once the first year is through and the farmers are assured that this kind of money is going to come to them every year, they can look at long-term investment propositions. If I know that I have got 6,000 per annum extra income, it can be leveraged to create an asset or to have capital investment in my farming or to go for a collective effort such as creating a farmer producer organization, contributing 6,000. Building large assets for cold-chain, for building a storage and grading house, or creating infrastructure that adds value to the marketing effort of the produce. All these things will start as a kind of spin-off of this scheme. So, I am very hopeful that an assured income that may seem to be small primarily can really turn around farmers’ thinking towards long-term planning, towards long-term asset creation or towards collective pooling of resources.

Given that the scheme was launched on 24 February from Gorakhpur by the Prime Minister, there is a sense of urgency for creating the database. Which are the more proactive and the laggard states?

In fact, from the management perspective one has to concentrate on states that have a larger base of farmers. If I tap Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana—these are the states that have a large number of farmer base and can give me a huge beneficiary base quickly. However, that doesn’t mean that smaller states from the North-East, or Punjab, and Haryana are not important. So, we are working with every state and almost every state is cooperating also. There are different levels of data preparedness, so some of the states would be more proactive to give us data before the 20th (of February).

(Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Such as?

We are hoping Uttar Pradesh will give us good data, Gujarat will give us good data, Maharashtra will give us good data. (Plus) Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand. So, these are the states we are concentrating on where we can get good data. Even Haryana, Uttarakhand, and Punjab. Once we get this data, we will concentrate on the Union territories and smaller states. Among the southern states, Tamil Nadu is very active, so we will get decent data from there. So, I think it will be about 20-30% of the total data base we can get within the 24 February deadline…So, we are hoping that anything between one crore to three crore (beneficiaries) should be done in the first tranche itself (on 24 February). Then of course it will be a continuous affair. The moment we get the data, we will keep on transferring (the money).

Will this scheme be extended to tenant farmers in the future?

This is not the structure of the scheme as of now, but the government may take a stand later on. As of now, it’s connected to the ownership of land.

In the case of a person’s name not having been updated on the database, will the individual still get 6,000 as and when the data gets updated?

Yes. If his right had occurred or it was there before the first of February, then he or she will get the benefit.

In this push to expedite the scheme, do you see a concern emerging about data integrity and verification on part of the states? We have seen goalposts changing in other marquee schemes such as Saubhagya—a case in point being Uttar Pradesh.

In fact, the software has been designed in such a way that there are multiple checks on the beneficiary list. So, once the data is uploaded by the states it is going through a dual check of the Aadhaar UID (Unique Identity Number) system as well as the PFMS (Public Financial Management System), which checks the bank accounts and aligns it with the names of the beneficiaries. Once those checks are run, then the money will be transferred. There is a lot of reliance on technology and the existing databases that are there in the country. Hopefully we should be able to sanitize the data properly before money is released. If there is any error it will always be corrected as we go on.

What happens in the north-eastern states where it’s the village council that owns the land rather than individuals?

We have received a proposal from north-eastern states to treat as regular beneficiary whoever has a patta or lease from the village council or a village chief. So, that is now under active consideration. There is a committee formed with the agriculture minister, the DoNER (ministry of development of north eastern region) minister and the land resources minister that is the rural development minister and the chief minister of all the north-eastern states. We have had internal discussions. The note is ready, so we put it in circulation...The preliminary thinking of the ministry is that they should be eligible.

So the primary driver is inclusion in the PM-Kisan scheme?

The attempt is to include and not to exclude.

Does PM-Kisan set the stage for a universal basic income (UBI) scheme?

These are two different concepts as I understand because the farmers are being supported in different ways. One of them is the cost of inputs where government provides subsidy. One of them is the agricultural practices where we are trying to subsidize mechanization and better farming practices. Most importantly, the operations of MSP (minimum support prices) where we try to ensure a remunerative price to the farmer.

Plus, this is an income support to the farmer. This is a kind of continuum for the welfare of farmers and it contributes to their capacity in the long run to have more capital investment in the farming itself, making it better and more remunerative. I don’t think it has a connection with the UBI.

In the run-up to the general elections, there is a lot riding on this scheme for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government. How do you react to that and the associated pressures that come with it?

As a professional, it is an opportunity to deliver what has been entrusted to you. That’s the approach. It is a job that has been given to me and I always consider a job as people, processes, and technology. If you master that you can deliver it.