Nagpur, December 5:
There are many ways to read into any government bonanza.
Look, for instance, at the thousand crore aid that the Maharashtra government announced on Saturday for farmers, hit by the untimely rains.
Plain arithmetic shows that the aid would come to roughly Rs 20,000 a hectare, since the preliminary estimates are of losses over 5.4 lakh hectares.
Weigh it with past figures, and one thinks the government has really been more liberal in helping the peasants than the previous years. As the new chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, and his deputy, Ajit Pawar, put it: The compensation has been increased three-fold over the average assistance of Rs 350 crore the government has been giving every year to the losses-torn farmers of the state since 2004.
But when demystified, the huge amount looks more of a pain than relief to the peasants, whose losses this year stand anywhere around Rs 10,000 crore.
Given this year’s phenomenal increase in the production cost, particularly for the rain-dependent farms of the state, the loss of harvest due to an extended 60-day post-monsoon period comes as a rude shock, since the peasant’s farming risks have risen manifold with cash crops, price volatility, and natural calamities.
So how do the Rs 1000 crore get distributed?
The amount includes of the burden of interest on grape growers’ loans that the government has decided to bear for the next two years. This, when desegregated, will include of three components, top officials say: this year’s losses, interests on commercial loans and the loans taken under the National Horticulture Mission.
Together it amounts to about Rs 250 crore, and since the interest waiver is for two years, the benefit to the grape growers in Nashik and Pune would eat into almost half the package amount. The government has made it clear that it would bear the entire interest burden (without upper limit or land size restriction) so that the grape growers, whose losses are unprecedented, rebuild their vineyards.
The losses borne by other traditional agriculture crops: paddy, soybeans, pulses, cotton, and sugarcane, would get compensated from the remaining amount, and within the ambit of the existing norms: that is compensation up to two hectares, unless the government decides to treat 2010 as a special case. In any case each of the beneficiaries, reliable sources say, won’t get more than Rs 5000, or Rs 1000 per acre. The details would be anyway available by December 14-15.
That, for the kind of losses paddy, soybean, sugarcane and cotton farmers have borne this year, is peanuts, according to the agriculture experts and peasants.
The other promise of restoration of power supply to agriculture pumps favuors the irrigated farms, and ignores majority rain-dependent peasants.
More tragic is the flaw the government continues to persist with since 1997 in its policy to compensate the peasants for losses due to nature’s vagaries.
The Panchanamas, or the spot verification, is intended to compensate individuals and not the entire village. Which is strange. If untimely rains cause losses on one field in a village, how can other fields be left untouched by their impact!
The 5.4 lakh hectare agriculture land where crop losses are more than 50 per cent would be eligible for the compensation doles. This area is scattered over 33 districts. On the ground, the actual acre of farmland wrecked by untimely rains is no short of a million hectares. May be more.
Who will the Rs 1K crore provide relief to and in what way is therefore a million dollar question.