Chief minister Vijay Rupani on Tuesday formally launched the his government’s drive to pay relief to farmers of 96 drought-affected talukas and reiterated that the ambitious SAUNI Yojana for filling up 115 dams of Saurashtra to augment irrigation facilities will be completed within a year.
The disbursement of relief money to the drought-affected farmers starts just days after the BJP government categorically rejected the option of waiving farm loans amid growing demand for it from the Opposition Congress and the farmers’ outfits.
Handing over cheques to 12 farmers at an event in Rajkot to mark the completion of one year of his government, the CM said that the government will pay
Rs 2,285.59 crore to 26.40 lakh farmers of 96 talukas that been declared drought-hit or rain-deficit following an erratic monsoon this year.
Earlier, the government had announced Rs 6,500 crore package for 51 scarcity-hit talukas and 45 rain-deficient talukas. A lump sum relief, in the range of Rs 5,300 per hectare to Rs 6,800 per hectare, to farmers in the affected talukas for crop loss was announced. A farmer will, however, be eligible to get the relief for a maximum of two hectares.
Warding off loan waiver pressure with relief measures
After being pressed by Opposition Congress, which has been advocating one-time farm loan waiver, the BJP government had categorically denied any such suggestion and remained firm that farm loans will not be written off. After the Congress won Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in the recent Assembly elections by promising farmers to waive their debts, clamour for similar relief to farmers in other states has been growing. Instead of giving in to such demands, the Gujarat government has chosen to reach out to farmers through a Rs 6,500 crore drought relief package, even tweaking rules to cover maximum farmers. While the CM has stressed on completing the SAUNI project by December next year, not much water has been pumped into the dams of Saurashtra, a water-starved agrarian region where the ruling BJP had lost 15 seats in the Assembly election last year. It remains to be seen how farmers, especially in the drought-hit Saurashtra, respond to the government move ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
“Farmers of Saurashtra are resilient. They have seen through a number of droughts in the past. However, this year, the state government will take effective relief measures to help farmers tackle drought. The government has drawn detailed plans to ensure that farmers and cattle-herders of the state do not face difficulty in a drought year,” Rupani said.
He also reminded the farmers how his government had changed the manuals to accommodate even those talukas that received up to 400 mm rain in the drought-relief package. “According to manuals, a taluka can be declared drought-affected if it receives less than five inch of rain. But to protect the interests of farmers, the government has decided to extend drought relief to even those talukas which have received up to 14 inch of rain by changing the guidelines,” he added.
The other relief measures for the rain-deficient talukas included extended hours of power supply to farmers at subsidised rates, fodder at subsidised rates, increasing labour days under MNREGA from 120 to 150, and subsidy to NGOs who set up cattle camps in drought-affected areas.
The CM also reiterated that SAUNI (Saurashtra Narmada Avataran Irrigation) Yojana will be completed as per schedule by December next year. “Once the scheme is completed, 115 dams of Saurashtra will be filled up with water from Narmada dam and availability of irrigation water will augment in the region. As irrigation water will be available, farmers will be able to grow three crops per year,” said Rupani, giving credit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for completing the Narmada dam project.
He also added that the state government had increased percentage of subsidy to 85 per cent from earlier 70 per cent to farmers for helping them install micro irrigation systems on their farms.
Agriculture Minister Ranchhod Faldu, Water Supply Minister Kunvarji Bavaliya, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Jayesh Radadiya, Rajkot MP Mohan Kundariya and a host of local BJP MLAs were present at the farmers’ meet.