THE BJP-SHIV SENA government in Maharashtra on Thursday rolled out a Rs 150-crore relief package for onion farmers in the state. The dole comes amid growing agrarian distress and on the back of the BJP’s recent poll debacle in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s declared ex-gratia grant of Rs 200 per quintal, with an upper ceiling of 200 quintals per farmer, translates into an aid of up to Rs 40,000 per farmer.
However, while there are about 10 lakh onion cultivators in Maharashtra, the assistance scheme will be applicable only to those who sold their produce between November 1 and December 15. According to officials, about 41.23 lakh metric tonne of onion arrived in markets in November. Another 33.73 lakh metric tonne arrived till December 15.
There has been a sharp drop in onion prices in Maharashtra since the start of November. According state marketing department officials, the sale price of the old crop of onion (summer harvested crop) has now come down to Rs 250-Rs 300 per quintal as compared to Rs 850-Rs 1,500 per quintal in October. Compounding matters for local cultivators is the arrival of a fresh crop of onion in the state, which is still going at Rs 750-Rs 850 per quintal on account of superior quality. The large carry-forward stock of stored onion has contributed to the drop in prices.
On condition of anonymity, a senior BJP minister admitted that the move was aimed at curbing the unrest among farmers and in rural areas ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
While Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis termed it as the “biggest relief ever” to onion farmers, NCP state chief Jayant Patil, a former minister, said the government was “making a mockery of farmers”. Patil claimed that the relief translated into an “assistance of only Rs 2 per kg”.
A section of the onion farmers too expressed their displeasure at the “meagre relief” sum. Santosh Gorade, a farmer from Nashik’s Niphad taluka, said, “The relief is too little to make any serious impact, given the extent of farm losses.”
A senior minister said the CM announced in the Cabinet that he would personally approach the Centre for “extending subsidy” to raw onion produce under the Merchandise Exports from India Scheme, which caters only to processed onion currently. Fadnavis is also expected to push for raising the export subsidy limit from 5 per cent to 10 per cent, while seeking a six-month extension to it.
For now, the Centre has extended the export subsidy till January 2019. A delegation of elected representatives had earlier accompanied the Nashik Lasalgaon wholesale onion market’s chairperson, Jaydutt Holkar, seeking the Centre’s intervention to curb the distress among farmers.
The farm dole, which will drain the state’s debt-burdened exchequer further, comes in light of protests by onion farmers across the state. The Opposition, too, had upped the ante against the government, with MNS chief Raj Thackeray even asking cultivators to “hit Maharashtra’s minister with onions”.
In 2016, when onion prices had dropped similarly, the government had extended an ex-gratia grant of Rs 100 per quintal while imposing the same upper limit. The government has clarified that the relief won’t be extended to traders selling onion in Mumbai’s Agriculture Produce Market Committee, Vashi.
Subhash Deshmukh, Minister, Co-operation and Marketing, said, “It is expected that around 2 lakh farmers will benefit from the scheme.” About 75 lakh quintal of onion has been sold between November 1 and December 15.
Meanwhile, in another decision taken with the 2019 polls in mind, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Thursday approved a proposal permitting conversion of long-term residential and commercial leasehold properties allotted by the City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra (CIDCO) in Navi Mumbai, Aurangabad and Nashik, into free-hold properties on the payment of a one time transfer fee, ranging from 5 per cent to 20 per cent of the plot’s market value for residential ones, and 25 per cent to 30 per cent for the commercial properties. The move, which will benefit hundreds of properties in Navi Mumbai alone, will clear decks for redevelopment of such properties.
In another overture to win over its bitter ally Shiv Sena ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Fadnavis government Thursday waived Rs 14.71 crore in stamp duty and registration fee payable over the lease deed executed between the Mumbai municipality and the Uddhav Thackeray-led Balasaheb Thackeray Memorial Public Trust for the construction of the Bal Thackeray memorial in Shivaji Park. The memorial is proposed to come up on a municipality owned land, which was being used to house Mumbai’s mayor.