Even as the ruling BJP battles anti-incumbency amongst rural voters ahead of polling for the state Assembly on November 28, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has an ace up his sleeve. On October 5, his government declared a Rs 500-per-quintal bonus on soyabean and maize sold by farmers in the 2018-19 kharif marketing season, with the announcement made just a day before the Model Code of Conduct came into effect. But there is a catch. The bonus — “flat bhavantar”, as it is called — is applicable on the crop sold in regulated market yards or mandis from October 20 to January 19. And it is payable only after January 19, when voting would already have been over and a new government taken office in Bhopal.
“This is indirect blackmail. He (Chouhan) is basically telling farmers to vote for him, as there’s no guarantee that a non-BJP government will give the extra Rs 500/quintal,” alleged Kedar Sirohi, working president of the opposition Congress party’s kisan cell in MP.
“We know that it is an inducement, which only the next government can implement. But since the national elections are also due in April-May, we can be pretty sure that even a Congress government will have to give us the Rs 500/quintal flat bhavantar,” said Dhiraj Rajput. On Tuesday, this farmer from Abgaon Khurd village of Harda district and tehsil sold the 19 quintals of soyabean harvested from his five-acre holding for Rs 3,255 per quintal, below the Centre’s minimum support price (MSP) of Rs 3,399.
Kailash Malviya, a 11-acre farmer from Bhesun village in Dewas district’s Kannod tehsil, realised an average rate of Rs 2,900 per quintal last year for his 80-odd quintals of soyabean. This time, he has sold one trolley (35 quintals) of his harvested produce of over 100 quintals for Rs 3,200/quintal and hopes to get better rates for the balance quantities in the weeks ahead. “I don’t know whether they will pay me Rs 500/quintal on top of this. Even if they do, I’m not sure when that money will come,” he points out.
For the current marketing season, 11.82 lakh farmers growing soyabean on 26.09 lakh hectares (lh) and 3.25 lakh cultivating maize on 5.42 lh have been registered under the MP government’s “flat” Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana (BBY). As on October 16, a total of 9.22 lt of soyabean and 4.25 lt of maize had already been sold across 257 mandis of MP under the scheme. State agriculture department officials expect cumulative sales of 29-30 lt of soyabean and 14-15 lt of maize when the scheme closes on January 19. At Rs 500/quintal, the total payout to farmers would work out to roughly Rs 2,250 crore, with the next government having to foot this bill.
The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government had launched BBY in October 2017, following agrarian protests against falling crop prices that took a violent turn with police firing on farmers at Mandsaur in early-June. BBY was initially a price deficiency payments scheme; farmers were paid the difference between the government’s MSP for any crop and its corresponding average modal (most-traded) rate at mandis during a particular month. This price difference, assuming the MSP to be higher, was credited directly into the Aadhaar-seeded bank accounts of farmers, based on the actual quantity sold by them in mandis. That, in turn, was backed by documents such as weighment slip and payment receipt, and matched with the farmer’s land record details, Kisan code, Aadhaar ID and mobile number.
During the 2017-18 kharif marketing season, the MP government made BBY payments of Rs 1,952 crore to farmers, which included Rs 1,144 crore on urad (black gram), Rs 425 crore on soyabean, Rs 315 crore on maize and Rs 55 crore on arhar/tur (pigeon-pea). BBY was also implemented on sales of garlic (for the period from April 10 to May 31, 2018 against an MSP of Rs 3,200/quintal) and onions (during May 16-June 30 and August 1-31, 2018, against an MSP of Rs 800/quintal), with payments totalling Rs 549.89 crore and Rs 309.40 crore, respectively.
In addition, the Chouhan government unveiled a Mukhyamantri Krishak Samruddhi Yojana for the 2017-18 rabi wheat, chana (chickpea), masur (lentil) and rapeseed-mustard crops. Under this scheme, farmers selling wheat during the period from March 15 to May 26 were given a Rs 265/quintal bonus (over and above the Centre’s MSP of Rs 1,735), with a similar flat Rs 100/quintal rate on the other three crops marketed after April 10. These payments amounted to Rs 2,259.46 crore for wheat, Rs 159.14 crore for chana, Rs 23.22 crore for masur and Rs 12.28 crore for rapeseed-mustard.
According to Sirohi, the term “flat bhavantar” being used for the promised Rs 500/quintal payment on the currently marketed soyabean and maize crops was misleading. “Bhavantar means price difference. That difference can only be between a fixed MSP and lower market rates, which will keep changing. A flat bhavantar is nothing but bonus by another name. The October 5 notification, moreover, states that a flat bhavantar of up to Rs 500 per quintal will be given, which makes it all the more confusing. The intent is to escape liability of implementation after polls, while giving false promises now,” he claimed.
But direct payments – call it bhavantar, flat bhavantar or bonus – and also insurance claims worth Rs 5,260 crore paid to around 17.5 lakh farmers in MP under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana for the 2017-18 crop year have, perhaps, given Chouhan some ammunition to mount a counterattack on the Opposition. Whether it will be enough to exorcise the ghosts of Mandsaur will be known on November 28.