Don’t Need Charity, Say Shamli’s Farmers After Budget Handout of Rs 17 Per Day

Shamli: Vishal, from Kundhla village, always aspired to graduate in agricultural studies from the only college in Shamli offering the course. But for almost six months now, he has been bedridden with a fracture near his tailbone. His mother has been struggling to make ends meet for the family of four, leave alone visiting a doctor to seek medical help.

Though they own a few acres of land on which sugarcane is grown, it has been a year since they were paid their dues by the sugar mill. The family now solely depends on its two buffaloes to sell milk and afford basic amenities.

A village close to Shamli-Delhi road, Kundhla had been eagerly waiting for the Budget 2019. The entire sugarcane belt has not only been distressed due to non-payment of dues by mills running into crores but also witnessed mass destruction of crops due to the attacks by stray cattle.

Finance Minister Piyush Goyal in his budget speech announced that the government will provide assisted income support to small and marginal farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PMKISAN).

Under the scheme, direct cash transfer of Rs 6,000 per year will be made to the bank accounts of farmers owning less than two hectares of land in three equal installments, Goyal told the parliament. This translates to approximately Rs 17 per day.

However, farmers termed the handout as an “electoral gimmick”, wondering how this monetary relief would rid them of their debts or help get back money owed to them.

Rahul Chaudhary, a young farmer from Lilon Village of Shamli, was glued to his old television set eagerly waiting for a measure “benefiting the farmers”. For him, there was none.

“What will happen with the disbursal of Rs 6000? The cost of pesticides itself runs into thousands. How will this amount benefit the farmers? If the government would have included provisions to hold mill owners guilty according to law in case of delay in payment of dues, then it would have been a positive step. But unfortunately this budget is not about the farmers,” said Chaudhary.

The farmers say all they expected from the budget was a check on mills so that if the period of 14 days for payment is flouted then they could be held guilty.

Vikas, another farmer from Kundhla village, owned 12 bighas of land but with his wife battling cancer, he had to sell eight for her treatment, and make decent arrangements for her funeral.

He still awaits the payment from the produce he sold at the mill from the remaining land.

“No subsidy on seeds and fertilizers. What is Rs 500 per month? Are we beggars? We do not need charity. Even the 14-day period for payment of dues by mills too has been violated. What is the use of this?” asked the 40-year-old.

According to the Agriculture Survey, the small and marginal holdings taken together (0-2 hectare) constituted 86.21 per cent in 2015-16 against 84.97 per cent in 2010-11 while their share in the operated area stood 47.34 per cent in the current census as against 44.31 per cent in 2010-11.

The budget also laid down the concern of the government for the “welfare of the farmers” as it decided to increase the MSP by 1.5 times of the production cost of all 22 crops.

However, farmers expressed disappointment, saying the hike in MSP has been a “long-pending promise” that has “never been fulfilled.”

Chaudhary Savit Malik who had been at the forefront of the farmers protest in Shamli District Collectorate under the banner of Kisan Union drew parallel to MSP drawn by farmers in Maharashtra to show the failure of such promises.

“The MSP promise is not new. In Maharashtra farmers are getting one rupee a kilo for tomato and one rupee a kilo for potato. Where is the MSP? The government had fixed a rate of Rs 1600 per quintal but even the e-mandi is not ready to pay this amount. The farmers are forced to sell the produce at price lower than what is fixed by the government,” he says.

“The farmers who are forced to sell their produce of tomato for a one rupee a kilo has to spend Rs 25 a kilo when the buy the same from the market for any wedding at home. How does a farmer sustain then?” asked Malik.

Farmers also complained that among 52 villages of Shamli district, there are no villages which have a Mandi to sell produce within a 20 km radius.

Another confusion which now plagues farmers is whether sugarcane is included in the 22 crops as the MSP they receive after huge delays is nothing compared to the promises made in the past.

Ravinder Kumar had to recently mortgage his land for his daughter’s wedding. But Kumar knows even if he sells his house to repay the loan, it would not bear him much.

“The budget was completely silent on the sugarcane farmers and their fate. They have stated that they would give 1.5 times the MSP for 22 crops but it does not mention our crops. Currently the price is Rs 275 for a quintal of sugarcane and we get paid Rs 325 and that too with a lot of delays,” said Kumar.

But there was some respite in the budget as well. Piyush Goyal announced that a Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog will be set up for the welfare of cows in the country. The government will allocate Rs 750 crore for Rashtriya Gokul Mission from the current year itself.

It will set up a Rashtriya Kamdhenu Aayog to upscale sustainable genetic upgradation of cow resources and enhance production and productivity of cows. The Aayog will also look after effective implementation of laws and welfare schemes for cows.

For the farmers of Shamli, this was an important announcement. They have been struggling for past several months due to the menace of stray cattle, as crops have been destroyed at large due to cattle feeding on them.

One of the major expectations from the budget was that the government should take steps to set up gaushalas with facilities to keep the stray cattle.

But farmers are sceptical about the allocation of funds to the project as they believe Rs 750 crores to keep a check on cows of entire India would not be enough.

“Around 750 crores have been allocated for Kamdhenu yojna to implement cow welfare schemes. Is this really enough? India is a vast country. If we only speak about UP, the entire wheat, and sugarcane crops are destroyed by the stray cattle and this allocation will prove futile. We regret voting for BJP,” said Mohit Pawar, a farmer from Adampur.

Farmers also hoped that an autonomous body would be set up to determine the price of their produce before it is taken to the mills, however that was also not addressed from the budget.

“There is also an uncertainty about the rates at which the produce is sold as the prices are as such determined by the government. The daily wage workers at least know how much will they get paid. At least this rate can be decided by an autonomous body in advance and this often leads to confusion,” said Manoj Choudhary.

Farmers have also expressed disappointment over the measure announced by government by which interest subsidy to the tune of 5% would be granted in case crops are destroyed by natural calamity.

However, farmers believe that sugarcane and wheat which is the backbone of the Western belt of UP are often destroyed by either stray cattle, animals, or low irrigation or attack of pests and that “none of which qualifies under natural calamity”.

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