nti-incumbency and farmers’ distress led to the defeat of BJP-led governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh at their latest Assembly elections. Congress has replaced the BJP in the three states.
The BJD government in Odisha led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has been in power in the state for the past 18 years, winning the last four assembly elections in a row. It is natural, going by the results in the Hindi heartland, therefore, that the state government, too, is afraid of anti-incumbency and farmers’ agitations. To overcome both, the BJD government has introduced populist schemes such as PEETHA and KALIA.
PEETHA, which stands for ‘People’s Empowerment Enabling Transparency and Accountability’, is clever wordplay with an ‘H’ squeezed in to make it sound like Pitha, a delicacy offered to Lord Jagannath. Odias have deep emotional attachment to pithas. Agricultural scientist of renown, the late Dr Biswanath Sahu, had once even opined that the botanical name of rice, Oryza sativa, was derived from Arisa Pitha offered to Lord Jagannath.
The other scheme ‘Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation’, abbreviated as KALIA, also has a Jagannath connection. Here the word Krushak is the only non-English word in the full form. Why not ‘Farmer’ in place of ‘Krushak’? It is again a bid to exploit the emotions of Odias. KALIA is a name of Jagannath.
PEETHA is already in operation. At awareness camps for the scheme, though, pitha is firmly in the driver’s seat. Women self-help groups are displaying varieties of pitha at these camps, making them appear more as ‘Pitha Mahotsavs’.
The other scheme ‘Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation’, abbreviated as KALIA, also has a Jagannath connection. Here the word Krushak is the only non-English word in the full form. Why not ‘Farmer’ in place of ‘Krushak’?
Reports suggest political leaders are bearing the entire cost of distributing pithas for free at these camps. Women SHGs are happy, too, as they are getting business. PEETHA, observers say, is mobilising women votes in favour of the ruling party, although people are still unaware of its provisions.
KALIA has a similar background. The scheme is meant to redress the plight of farmers and agricultural labourers but does not amount to a farm loan waiver. The state is not financially sound enough to bear the cost of such a waiver. The state budget for 2018-19 was Rs 1,20,000 crore; but the state had to borrow at least Rs18,000 crore from the market during the financial year to meet budget expenditure. The total debt of the state stands at about Rs 92,000 crore.
A farm loan waiver would have cost the state another Rs 18,000 crore and it would have had taken the state’s debt to about Rs 1,10,000 crore, which is almost equal to the present state budget, to implement such a scheme.
KALIA, though, costs only Rs 10,200 crore from second half of 2018-19 to 2020-21. And if the scheme were to be introduced during this fiscal, not more than Rs 2,000 crore would be required and it would not impact the budget.
What are the provisions in KALIA? It says the government would directly credit Rs 5,000 to each household of small and marginal farmers in each season — Kharif and Rabi — to supplement their farm operational cost. Under the scheme, 32 lakh farm households in the state, of which 30 lakh are small and marginal farmers, will be benefited. But it appears the government has not looked at their own records in their hurry to implement the scheme. The Economic Survey of Odisha for 2017-18 tabled before budget 2018-19 says there are 46.67 lakh farmer households in the state; of these 9.18 lakh are marginal farmer households and 33.68 lakh are small farmer households as of 2010-11 (the latest available data). This totals 42.86 lakh.
So, how is it that the government plans for 30 lakh families only and claims that the scheme would cover 92 per cent of farm households?
On one hand the government says production of a quintal of paddy costs Rs 2,344 and is demanding the Centre to raise MSP for paddy to Rs 2,930 per quintal and on the other would pay only Rs 5,000, to a family in one season which is the equivalent of the cost of production of 2 quintals of paddy.
According to Odisha Land Reforms Act, the state has no sharecropper barring some exceptions. If so, how will the state identify share-croppers for benefits under KALIA. The identification has not been done yet and it remains to be seen how panchayats complete the identification within a short period.
Another provision under KALlA is that Rs 12,500 would be paid to landless labourers to undertake allied activities — goat rearing, mini layer units, duck units, fisheries, and mushroom cultivations among other things — to augment their incomes. But is the extension agency capable enough to provide technical guidance and supply of inputs to 10 lakh families? What kind of marketing strategy would be adopted to market the produce at remunerative prices? Unless these are ensured, cash distributed would be mis-utilised.
Also, an annual financial assistance of Rs 10,000 is to be paid to 10 lakh farmer households under KALIA to take care of sustenance farmers unable to take up cultivation due to old age, disability or disease, among other things. This would also lead to controversies over nepotism in identification. It would have been better had the farmers above 60 years of age been given pension.
The provision of life insurance cover of Rs 2 lakh and additional personal accident cover of Rs 2 lakh for 73 lakh households is welcome. However, interest-free crop loan of Rs 50,000 under the scheme may not be as acceptable, as it remains to be seen how many farmers will be able repay the loan in time unless their income generation capacity is increased they cannot repay previous loans in time to avail the facility.
Both PEETHA and KALIA cost significant sums from the exchequer, but the objective of removal of farmers’ distress has hardly been addressed.
To achieve this, long-term infrastructure is to ensured to increase production, productivity and income generation of farmers. These schemes may pay rich dividends to the party in power at the 2019 election but farmer distress will continue.
The writer is an agro-banker and columnist.