Ahead of the paddy harvesting season this year, the Punjab government announced to provide more than 28,000 agro-machines to farmers at subsidised rates. The government said it has allocated Rs 278 crore in the current fiscal under first phase of in-situ management of paddy residue.
The move initially drew good response from the farmers. The government in early August had claimed to have received around 12,000 applications from farmers, farmers’ groups and primary agriculture cooperative societies (PACS) for the subsidised machinery.
However, a controversy has erupted now with farmers claiming that the machines being sold under subsidy by the government were actually costlier than those available from private players in the open market.
The issue is threatening to snowball into a controversy with a number of farmer organisations backing the claims that the agro-machines being sold by agriculture implement firms, not approved by the government, were cheaper by 10 to 30 per cent than the ones being sold on subsidy.
The state government, aiming to make Punjab a zero stubble burning zone, offers 50 per cent subsidy on these machines to individual farmers and 80 per cent to cooperative societies and farmers’ groups. The machines for tackling stubble burning on which subsidy is being offered include super straw management system (SMS), happy seeder, paddy straw chopper, shredder and mulcher, hydraulic reversible mould board (RMB) plough, shrub cutter, rotary slasher, rotavator. and zero till drill.
All these machines are used for incorporating the paddy straw in the fields and even cultivate seeds for the next crop under the paddy straw.
Darshan Singh Kokri, president of Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan), said it was ironical that machines on which the farmers get subsidy are actually costlier. “The ones available in the open market are cheaper. For instance, a private firm is selling a happy seeder for Rs 60,000. The government approved firms sell it for Rs 1.5 lakh. (Based on the subsidy offered, an individual farmer would get it for nearly Rs 75,000 and a farmer group for Rs 30,000). Why can’t the government approved machines too have the MRP of Rs 60,000? That way a farmer would get it for Rs 30,000 and a group for Rs 12,000. This there was some nexus at play, which was not being checked,” Kokri said.
The Punjab government in 2018-19 had provided 28,609 subsidised machines – 12,075 to individual farmers with 50 per cent subsidy and 16,534 to cooperatives and farmers group at 80 per cent subsidy.
The Centre provides 100 per cent subsidy to the state government on the crop residue management machines. The state government, meanwhile, invites applications for such machines from farmers in advance. The farmers pay the full price and the government then reimburses the subsidy amount.
Mukhtiar Singh, a farmer from Pakhoke village on Ludhiana-Moga road, said, “If a farmer gets a SMS machine fixed on his combine from private firms, it costs him Rs 45,000. But it is available (at government approved outlets) for Rs 1.20 lakh”.
He too said state approved firms have fixed the MRP of Rs 1.5 lakh for happy seeder. “After the subsidy of 50 per cent, we can get it for Rs 60,000, the price at which it is available in the open market. Then what is the use of the so called subsidy,” he asked.
While the farmers have made the price of machines an issue, the dealers counter the allegations.
“The machines being manufactured by government-approved firms is of much better quality. The steel used for such machines is imported from Germany. That steel is expensive. The farmers are raising a non-issue. A Jagatjit happy seeder has MRP of about Rs 1.60 lakh. A farmers’ group would get a subsidy of 80 per cent and would pay just over Rs 32,000. Who would give them a happy seeder at this price,” asked Paramjit Singh, of Young Agro Implements, Nakodar.
The government also contests the farmers claims.
Punjab Agriculture Secretary Kahan Singh Pannu said the state approved firms have been asked to adhere to the specifications given by the by ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research). “The machines have the best quality material. They adhere to the ICAR specifications and thus are safe for use. Also, these machines come with an annual maintenance contract of two years”.
The area under paddy cultivation in Punjab, meanwhile, has seen a decline – coming down to 30 lakh hectares this year from 31.03 lakh hectares last year. Even then the state would generate nearly 200 lakh tonne of paddy stubble. BKU (Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Khokrikalan had claimed that the residue management machines take care of only 9 per cent of the stubble. The resof it is set to fire in the fields with a small amount being utilised as fodder.
Earlier this month, farmers had protested in Barnala demanding that the government give them Rs 200 per quintal as bonus for the management of crop residue if it failed to propose a viable solution for stubble burning problem.