The K Chandrashekar Rao-led government in Telangana has issued cheques totaling around Rs 5,600 crore to 57.33 lakh land-owning farmers in the state ahead of the current kharif crop season under its flagship Rythu Bandhu agricultural subsidy scheme.
“Out of the Rs 5,600 crore worth cheques that we have issued since May 10, farmers have already encashed Rs 5,400 crore,” Vakati Karuna, special officer for the Rythu Bandhu scheme, told The Indian Express.
Under Rythu Bandhu, farmers are given a flat Rs 4,000 per acre “investment support” before every crop season, with this amount expected to meet a major part of their expenses on inputs. “In all, we have covered 1.42 crore acres. Technically, the scheme does not discriminate between farmers based on their landholding size. However, 92% of the beneficiaries own less than five acres, while 5% have 5-10 acres and the balance 3% more than 10 acres,” Karuna said.
The state government had initially compiled a list of 72 lakh beneficiaries, based on a revenue department survey conducted during October-December last year. The survey collected the address and land ownership details of all farmers, apart from their Aadhaar unique identity and mobile phone numbers. “The lack of proper land records resulted in the total number coming down to 57.33 lakh. But the records are still under rectification and more farmers will be added to the beneficiary list later,” Karuna, also head of the state’s Land Records Purification Mission, added.
The Telangana government also plans to extend the flat Rs 4,000-per acre subsidy for the rabi season, with the distribution of cheques for it to commence from November 18. All this, political observers feel, would come useful for the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) next April-May, when elections for both Parliament and the State Assembly are scheduled.
The crops cultivated in Telangana during kharif — sowing for which has begun with the onset of the southwest monsoon — include cotton, maize and groundnut, while farmers mainly grow chickpea, green gram, black gram and chilli in the rabi season.
“We fixed the subsidy at Rs 4,000 per acre after a study showed this as roughly what farmers spend on seed, fertiliser, pesticide, and field preparation. Besides, we are giving free 24-hour electricity supply for agricultural pump-sets. Both schemes (Rythu Bandhu and free power) together will take a huge load off farmers’ shoulders and they now need to only incur the cost of hiring agricultural labour,’’ claimed Telangana Agriculture Minister Pocharam Srinivas Reddy.
The TRS government has allocated Rs 12,000 crore for Rythu Bandhu in 2018-19, while the 24×7 free power supply to farmers is projected to cost another Rs 1,000 crore. The two schemes would consume about 14% of the state’s budgeted tax revenues of Rs 92,959.31 crore for the current fiscal.
Rythu Bandhu seems to have been more than well-received by Telangana farmers. “Earlier, to buy seeds or fertilisers, I had to borrow from money-lenders and input dealers. They would charge minimum 3% interest per month. But now, I don’t have to depend on them to purchase basic inputs for planting my crop,” noted B Satya Reddy, a farmer from Muthangi village in Patancheru mandal of Sangareddy district, who owns 4.5 acres of land.
“When we take loans from money-lenders, the tendency is to borrow more than what is required for only purchase of farm inputs. They, too, encourage this, which leads to our incurring huge debts. The money from the government (under Rythu Bandhu) is a huge support. The urge to borrow itself is less when we feel there is money in our bank account,’’ points out B Mallesham, a farmer with 4 acres of land in Sultanpur village.
The Telangana government has gone in for issuing cheques rather than making DBT (direct benefit transfer) payments into farmers’ accounts for a simple reason: DBT money might be used by the banks to adjust dues against past loans taken by farmers. The specially-printed cheques, on the other hand, can be encashed directly by farmers through banks of their choice. The state government, through the Reserve Bank of India, has also ensured sufficient supply of cash in bank branches — especially keeping in mind the currency scarcity that was witnessed during April.
The Rythu Bandhu cheques have been distributed along with free Pattadar Dharani passbooks. Each passbook has a unique code and contains all relevant information about the farmer, including name, and location and size of the landholding. Apart from replacing all other farm ownership documents, it will record the purchase and sale of any land by the farmer. All these details can be updated on a regular basis similar to a bank passbook.
The Rythu Bandhu scheme has, however, come under criticism on two major counts.
The first is, of course, that it does not exclude rich farmers or wealthy non-cultivating landlords. As the subsidy is granted on a per-acre basis, it can be availed even by well-off bureaucrats, politicians and ministers. But the scheme also has a “Giveitup” provision, under which the cheques given by the government can be returned to the local authorities. All ministers, and many IAS and IPS officers, owning farmland in their native villages, have reportedly returned the cheques. The difference between the value of cheques issued and those actually encashed is partly a result of the Giveitup initiative.
The second criticism is the exclusion of tenant cultivators. Often belonging to the poorest and most disadvantaged backgrounds, they constitute an estimated 40% of Telangana’s farming population, while tilling lands owned by others. “There’s little we can do, as the land that a tenant farmer is cultivating is registered in the name of the owner. The agricultural pump-set and electricity connection is also in the owner’s name, and so is the passbook that is being issued. We can only hope that the owner will pass on the benefits to the tenant-cultivator,” admitted an agriculture department official.
“It was a conscious decision we took to avoid unnecessary litigation, because tenant farmers cannot submit proof of even cultivation of the land, which is done mostly based on informal lease arrangements. The real owners will go to court if their tenants are treated as farmers and extended support under the scheme,” explained C Parthasarathi, principal secretary (agriculture).