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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Explained: As Bengal farmers get PM-Kisan cash, recalling tussle over the scheme

This was the first time that Bengal farmers received this benefit; the state had thus far stayed away from the central scheme.

Written by Harikishan Sharma | New Delhi |
Updated: May 22, 2021 9:52:13 am
On May 6, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said the state had completed its work, and asked the Centre to release the funds. (West Bengal CM's Office)

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi released Rs 20,667 crore as the eighth installment of payouts under PM-Kisan on Friday, among the over 9.5 crore beneficiaries across the country were more than 7 lakh farmers in West Bengal. This was the first time that Bengal farmers received this benefit; the state had thus far stayed away from the central scheme.

A total Rs 281.58 crore was transferred to the bank accounts of 7,03,955 Bengal farmers on Friday as two installments for December-March 2020-21 and April-July 2021-22. On Thursday, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had demanded Rs 18,000 for each farmer, in keeping with the promise made by Modi during the Assembly election campaign.

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PM-Kisan scheme

The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) is a 100 per cent centrally funded scheme under which Rs 6,000 is transferred in three equal installments to eligible farmer families in a year. Though the scheme was announced in the General Budget (Interim) for 2019-20 ahead of Lok Sabha elections, it was implemented from December 1, 2018, when the first installment for December-March, 2018-19 was released.

How the scheme works

The money is transferred to bank accounts of beneficiaries through the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) mode. According to scheme guidelines, state governments are required to send “correct and verified data of farmers”, which State Nodal Officers (SNOs) authenticate and upload to the scheme portal in batches. Based on the verified data, SNOs sign the Request For Transfer (RFT), with the total number of beneficiaries.

The Public Finance Management System (PFMS) then issues a Fund Transfer Order (FTO), based on which the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation & Farmers’ Welfare in the central Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare issues the transaction order for the mentioned amount.

The money goes to the State Nodal Account maintained at a sponsor bank (in the case of Bengal, it is the State Bank of India), and the SNO gives a letter of authority to the bank manager to auto debit the PM-Kisan amount and credit it to the accounts of eligible farmers.

Centre vs West Bengal

The West Bengal government had demanded that the money be given to the state to distribute to farmers. It went slow on providing the list of beneficiaries, and did not designate an SNO until a few days before the Model Code of Conduct came into force (on February 26).

As the high-stakes Assembly election approached, this became a political issue. The Chief Minister and Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar wrote to each other on more than one occasion. BJP leaders, including the Prime Minister, accused the Trinamool Congress of depriving farmers of benefits offered by the Centre, while the TMC said the state government had already done the needful, and accused the Centre of delaying the funds.

Meanwhile, of the 69 lakh farmers estimated to be eligible for PM-Kisan benefits by the Agriculture Ministry, some 41 lakh had registered themselves on the scheme portal. About 14 lakh among them had been verified by the state government, and about half that number were cleared by the PFMS to receive the benefit.

On the day after the TMC’s thumping election victory, Tomar again wrote to Banerjee, complaining that “the state government is yet to approve the auto debit facility to transfer the money directly into the accounts of beneficiaries”.

A day later, on May 4, the West Bengal government authorised SBI to make the automatic debits. Banerjee then wrote to Modi, requesting him to advise the Agriculture Ministry to release funds under the scheme to the eligible beneficiaries.

At a press conference on May 6, the Chief Minister said: “I hope the funds…will be released soon. They said Rs 18,000 will be given to each farmer. Five months ago we uploaded the names of recipients on the central government’s portal and made all arrangements.”

On Friday, an Agriculture Ministry official said farmers of Bengal had received two installments because the state government had sent the data of farmers during December-March, 2020-21. Once the state sends the list of remaining eligible farmers, they would get their money in the next cycle of payment, the official said.

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The sum involved

From the beginning of PM-Kisan in 2018-19 to the seventh installment released in December 2020, Rs 1.16 lakh crore had been transferred into the accounts of 10.82 crore eligible farmers under the scheme. On Bengal, Agriculture Minister Tomar had said: “Had the state government decided to join the scheme from the beginning, about Rs 9,660 crore would have been transferred to the accounts of farmer families until now.”

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