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Global Agriculture Summit In Jharkhand: Farmers In A Fix!

Whether it is at the National Capital or at the capital of Jharkhand, farmers in the country are meant to dance to the tune of the powers-that-be

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The two-day long Global Agriculture and Food Summit concluded at Ranchi in Jharkhand on November 30 with a plethora of promises from the Central and State leadership of the BJP to transform living conditions of farmers by 2022. But the pertinent question that remained unanswered is: Is the BJP in right earnest to ensure agrarian reforms while making these promises to farmers? If the past bears testimony to the fact, the answer is not in the affirmative.

In the presence of Union Agriculture Minister, Radha Mohan Singh and Niti Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant, what Chief Minister Raghubar Das promised to the farmers on the occasion appears to be self-annihilating steps for the Government. How can the State Government that is contriving to cope with resource constraints afford to protect interests of farmers and how would it salvage its credentials if it failed to meet the expectations of farmers?

The CM pledged to turn around the abysmal conditions farmers were facing. He promised to increase their income four-fold by 2022 and make one year interest free agriculture loan available to them. He also reiterated his promise to dole out mobile sets to 28,00,000 farmers. The idea to ensure the galloping four-fold increase in income of farmers is, in fact, hardly comprehensible to many and best known to the Government itself, but if farmers avail of interest free agriculture loan and are given smart phones, it will be tantamount to a virtual financial impropriety. The interest-free loan and whopping cost of 28 lakh mobile sets will create a massive dent to the financial strength of the State exchequer. About Rs. 1400 crore is expected to be borne on purchasing of mobile sets for the farmers and the Government will be accountable to pay interests accrued on agriculture loans lent by financial institutions under the much-acclaimed ‘interest-free agriculture loan’ scheme.

Thanks to the Office of Chief Minister  -- that is entrusted with the task to strategise the Chief Minister’s role – the execution of demagogic initiatives launched by the Government time and again have gone awry. Reason: dearth of financial acumen on the part of officials at the CMO.

Whether it is the scheme pertaining to dole out mobile sets to farmers or interest-free agriculture loan or unrealistic modification in payment of remuneration to Krishak Mitra that is another flagship project of the Central Government in the State, the CMO has often been callous neglect to gauge eventual financial and political fallouts. Consequently, the much-acclaimed populist schemes that were launched by none other than Chief Minister Raghubar Das for farmers in the past had to be kept in abeyance presumably for want of substantial funds in particular.     

The Chief Minister Office (CMO), that is headed by the Principal Secretary to CM, is accused of keeping the CM in the dark while briefing him about the cost of the schemes. Acting upon the desire expressed by the CM to rope in farmers, the CMO is said to have come out with the proposal to dole out mobile sets to farmers. The scheme worked out by the CMO was estimated to cost about Rs. 150 crore and the Chief Minister had no reason to deny the demand. He was, consequently, quick to launch the scheme to dole out mobile sets to 28,00,000 farmers in the State. 

But, the resounding decision that is potent enough to hit the headlines of media across the country has become a lump in the throat of the Jharkhand Government.  Farmers are, in fact, unlikely to avail of the much-acclaimed gifts. The lucrative announcement that was made purportedly at a cost of merely Rs 150 crore has turned out to be unrealistic figure.

If sources privy to the CMO are to be believed, contrary to the cost figured out by the CMO, the State Finance department pegged the eventual cost to be borne on the scheme at around Rs. 1400 crore instead. The State Finance Department is said to have shown its inability to incur the exorbitant cost on the purchase of mobile sets and suggested that the project be kept at bay. Making a mockery of the CMO’s decision, the Finance department is said to have suggested to set up a ‘mobile factory’ with bearing such a huge cost instead.

Similarly, farmers who are working under the Central Government-sponsored scheme of Krishak Mitra (Farmers’ Friend) are questioning the initiative by the Chief Minister’s Office to improve their service conditions. Krishak Mitra have been hired to help farmers in their agriculture activities, are supposed to get a nominal remuneration of Rs. 1200 per annum with Central Government’s contribution of Rs. 600 and the equal amount of share by the State Government under the scheme. As per the scheme, the age limit for the Krishak Mitra has also been set at 42 years and above ostensibly in order to ward off the possible claim for regularisation of their services.

Incidentally, in a clear defiance of the guidelines, the State Government invited application from aspirants ranging from the age group of 21 to 25 years instead and hired 4500 Krishak Mitra across the State.

Subsequently, in a major populist exercise, the Chief Minister made an announcement to  provide them with a substantial honorarium every month. According to well-placed sources in the State Agriculture Department, the payment of honorarium is supposed to cost about Rs.14 crore per annum to the State exchequer. However, the State Finance department has again refused to endorse the proposal in the light of the fact that the decision to pay monthly honorarium would eventually lead to the demand for regularisation of services and payment of salaries as well putting an additional burden on the State exchequer.

As such, apart from being saddled with the problem of State-wide agitation of around one lakh Para teachers who have been protesting for regularisation of their services, the State Government is poised to face the threat of a possible skirmish with Krishak Mitra too. Krishak Mitra are up in arms and they have threatened to launch offensive to press for their demand. They have already met State Agriculture Minister Randhir Singh to remind him about the CM’s promise for monthly honorarium to them and apprise the Government of their future course of actions.

Interestingly, the State Finance Department was neither taken into confidence before the announcement of the scheme for distribution of mobile sets to farmers nor was it consulted before making announcement to modify payment of remuneration to Krishak Mitra, well-placed sources at the Finance department confirmed. 

Notwithstanding, the two-day Global Agriculture Summit witnessed the presence of representatives from China, Singapore and Philippines that showed interest to import vegetables from Jharkhand. Yoga Guru and proprietor of Patanjali products, Baba Ramdev offered to set up food processing unit in Jharkhand with joining hands with the Government to help farmers.            

To top it all, whether it is at the National Capital or at the capital of Jharkhand, farmers in the country are meant to dance to the tune of the powers-that-be. They are either seen staging protests in Delhi in abortive attempts to seek the Government’s attention towards their plight or falling prey to political overtures displayed by holding the Global Summit in the garb of their welfare in Jharkhand. In fact, farmers are all set to be betrayed: there will neither be smart phones nor money for Krishak Mitra. Similarly, the announcements for interest-free agriculture loan and four-fold increase in farmers’ income are expected to remain a far cry too. Different reports reveal that over three lakh farmers across the country have committed suicides in the past 20 years.

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