‘Debt waiver can restore farmer faith in the govt’


Gurdhian Singh, 42, a resident of Seona village in Punjab’s Patiala district, has big expectations from the upcoming Union budget. But he is not sure what the government has in store for the agriculture sector.

“The way negligible yearly increase is given in the minimum support price (MSP) on crops, particularly wheat and paddy, it seems not many farmers, especially small and marginal, could continue to earn a livelihood,” said a worried Singh, who owns eight acres of land and has a family of five to support: two sons, a wife and parents.

“It is tough to support the entire family and its needs on eight acres, because prices fixed by the government are too low. I operate a harvest combine and have a small dairy of four-five buffaloes to generate additional income for my family,” he said, standing in his wheat field.

The Centre allocated 1,38,564 crore for the agriculture ministry in the 2020-21 budget, five percent of the outlay. The increase was primarily because of allocation of 75,000 crore for the PM Kisan Nidhi Yojana, the federal income support scheme for farmers.

The Centre also said it increased MSP for paddy 2.4 times and for wheat 1.5 times in the past six years and implemented the 2004 Swaminathan Commission recommendation of assured price of 50% profit over the production cost.

But Singh thinks it is not enough. “We can grow any crop such as wheat, paddy, sugarcane, potato, vegetables and even fruits. Mother earth has not let us down, but successive governments have cheated us,” he rued, giving an example of increase in MSP on paddy from 1,835 per quintal in 2019 to 1,888 in 2020. “It’s an increase of 53 for 100 kilograms of paddy; just 53 paise per kilogram. It’s a cruel joke played on us,” he said.

Singh pointed out input costs such as diesel prices, labour and agro-chemicals had increased four or five times, but MSP had not kept pace.

Many of Singh’s fellow farmers are currently agitating outside Delhi to press for the repeal of three controversial farm laws passed in September. They argue these laws will threaten the MSP regime, threaten the government-backed procurement system and leave them at the mercy of big firms.

The government has offered to put the laws on hold for 1.5 years and assured that MSP will continue, but the stalemate will continue.

“The government is trying to take away the rights of the farmers through unjust laws. The three laws should be repealed which intends to make farmer a subject of the corporate. Not only farmers but people in all other avocations have stood united against these laws,” he said.

He said in the 2021 budget, the Centre should announce an MSP of 3,000 per quintal for wheat and paddy so that recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission of 50% profit on the input cost is truly implemented.

He also wants the Centre to waive the debt of farmers and allow them to make a new beginning. As per State Bank of India research, non-performing assets of farm loans was 8,79,000 crore at end of the 2018-19 financial year. In the past five years, the annual increase of farm loan NPAs was 10%. “Debt waiver would restore farmer faith in the government,” Singh said, adding that he has an outstanding loan of 18 lakh.

He hopes that more farmers are covered under the PM-Kisan scheme. He also sought a special corpus fund for crop diversification so that the burden of procuring wheat and paddy could be curtailed. “Farmers will diversify if the government assures a good price,” he said, recalling his experience of making a loss when he grew potatoes, maize and vegetables.

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