From plate to plough: An unfulfilled farm manifesto

On agriculture, three years into the Modi government, while many steps have been taken to realise promises made in 2014, others have fallen by the wayside

Written by Ashok Gulati , Siraj Hussain | Published:May 22, 2017 1:17 am
narendra modi, modi govt, 3 years of modi govt, nda flagship, acche din, mnrega,pradhan mantri krishi yojana, pradhan mantri bima yojana,Swachh Bharat, prime minister modi,fci,  ugc, aicte, india news, modi news, bjp govt, nda govt The BJP manifesto promised that the government would introduce crop planning based on soil assessment with mobile soil testing labs set up.

With the Modi government completing three years in office, it is time to assess its performance in various sectors. We focus here on agriculture. Without robust growth in agriculture, “sabka saath, sabka vikas” will remain an empty slogan.

There are two ways to evaluate the Modi sarkar’s performance: One, to evaluate its flagship programmes in agriculture and see their impact. The other is to go back to the BJP’s 2014 manifesto, and see how many of those promises have been fulfilled.

In an earlier article, (‘The faraway fields’, IE, April 24) we evaluated the NDA’s flagship programmes, especially the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY), Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) and e-NAM. The conclusion was that they were all steps in the right direction but so far, their impact has not been felt. Perhaps tangible results won’t be seen before 2019.

Here, we look at major promises made in the election manifesto and how far the Modi government has progressed in turning those promises into reality. The BJP manifesto stated: “BJP commits highest priority to agricultural growth, increase in farmers’ income and rural development. BJP will increase public investment in agriculture and rural development; take steps to enhance profitability in agriculture by ensuring a minimum of 50 per cent profits over the cost of production, cheaper agriculture inputs and credit, introducing latest technologies and high-yielding seeds and linking MGNREGA to agriculture.”

There were other promises too, in terms of bringing down food inflation, creating a price stabilisation fund and reforming the food management system by unbundling FCI into three parts, the dissemination of real-time data to farmers, and setting up a National Agriculture Market. The manifesto promised that the government would introduce crop planning based on soil assessment with mobile soil testing labs set up.

On the completion of three years, we find that while a number of steps have been taken to realise these promises, several others have fallen by the wayside. There is hardly any talk now of ensuring 50 per cent profit to farmers; instead, we are grappling with the new promise of doubling farmers’ incomes in five years. The reforms in the food management sector have been almost forgotten. There has been hardly any initiative to try DBT for food subsidy on a large-scale despite the recommendation of the high-level committee under Shanta Kumar.

The idea of a price stabilisation fund, which started with a corpus of Rs 500 crore to tackle high onion prices, has enlarged to more than Rs 3,500 crore, building a buffer stock of pulses of almost 2 million tonnes. Given the short shelf life of pulses, the challenge is to continuously rotate this stock to stabilise prices. Since most states are reluctant to distribute pulses under the PDS, procuring agencies will have to sell in the open market or give to large organisations like the army. So far, just 1.2 lakh tonnes have been sold from the buffer stock; even the quantity procured/imported in 2015-16 is yet to be disposed of. That is worrying as quality will deteriorate fast.

Another major initiative of the government was to issue soil health cards to all farmers once in two years. Building from the experience of Gujarat, the idea was that farmers will make good use of information and the application of fertilisers will be in accordance with soil needs. A target of 14 crore cards was fixed against which six crore cards have been distributed so far. Most states have shown only a lukewarm response; hence, expected benefits of the application of appropriate doses of fertiliser have not been experienced. UP, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Bihar have shown poor performance in testing soil samples.

There are indications that a major change in the procedure for the disbursement of the fertiliser subsidy is likely to be rolled out from July 2017. Fertiliser companies will be paid subsidy only when the dealer has actually sold the fertiliser. We do not think the scheme will take into account the health of soil and the actual need of nutrients while reimbursing subsidy to the companies.

A better way would have been to directly transfer the fertiliser subsidy to farmers’ accounts and free up fertiliser prices, as recommended by the Shanta Kumar panel. That would have automatically encouraged farmers to use the information available in the soil health cards.

And finally, a word about doubling farmers’ income which was announced by the PM in a public meeting at Bareilly on February 28, 2016. PM Modi said: “I urge all the states to give priority to agriculture and then see the changes.” Since then, the bureaucracy and Niti Aayog have been busy justifying how the doubling of farmers’ incomes in five years can be achieved, without officially spelling out whether this is real income or nominal income. For now, this slogan is just shifting the goal post of 50 per cent profits over cost.

Overall, agriculture is still limping at just 1.7 per cent annual average growth during the Modi government. A majority of farmers are struggling to survive.

Gulati is Infosys Chair Professor for Agriculture and Hussain is former Secretary Agriculture, GoI, and currently visiting Senior Fellow at ICRIER
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