Uplifting the poor Indian farmer: A #MeToo for farmers’ redressal as well

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Published: May 21, 2019 12:01:25 AM

his new kind of ‘MeToo’ movement has emerged during last year or so, with an eye on winning the elections, both at the central and state levels.

Indian farmers, farmers in india, Uplifting the poor, sexual harassment, metoo, film industry, opinion newsBefore cash transfer schemes, loan waivers was the weapon used by political parties. (Reuters)

MeToo—a manifestation of women power—originated in the wake of sexual harassment of women especially in the film industry and at workplaces, but here I do not intend to deal with any such concern. I have just thought of borrowing this phrase and use it for political parties—pan-India or regional—who are now vying with each other to woo the poor farmer by announcing direct cash transfers or some sort of a minimum income guarantee scheme. This new kind of ‘MeToo’ movement has emerged during last year or so, with an eye on winning the elections, both at the central and state levels.

Before cash transfer schemes, loan waivers was the weapon used by political parties. These loan waivers were never fully implemented due to lack of resources, non-availability of correct information about poor farmers, inefficient implementation machinery at ground and at the state-level, and the absence of political will after the elections were over.

Now we see a MeToo movement of cash transfers by political parties. There are five states in this group (Telangana, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Sikkim). The ruling BJP-led NDA-2 at the Centre had launched the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana (PM-KISAN) and the Congress announced the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) in its election manifesto if voted to power at the Centre. This group would be expanding as and when various state assembly elections are announced in the future, and would continue to swell until the bubble bursts, as it happened with loan waivers, which no party talked about in these general elections.

I may sound pessimistic, but it should be noted that all cash transfer schemes are based on the concept of the Universal Basic Income (UBI), which originated in some western countries long ago. The UBI was never implemented in its full meaning out there, and only experimented for short periods in some countries and then was abandoned. Even in India, in Madhya Pradesh, the SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association), in collaboration with the UNICEF, took up such a pilot project in nine villages (including one tribal village) in 2014 (under the BJP regime), but it was not replicated in other villages despite the protagonists of the UBI calling it a successful experiment. Why is this so? Has any scientific evaluation been done? These are unanswered questions yet.

Now, since this MeToo movement of direct cash transfers to the poor has generated so much public interest as well as fury (after all, it is taxpayers’ money), let’s evaluate the pros and cons of the two major schemes, i.e. PM-KISAN and NYAY.

Let me first dwell on salient features of both the schemes. Under PM-KISAN, every small and marginal farmer (excluding landless agricultural labourers) would get Rs 6,000 per year in three equal instalments, the scheme would cover 12 crore farmers, and the estimated expenditure for the financial year would be Rs 75,000 crore, which is about 0.3% of our GDP.

Instead, NYAY would provide Rs 72,000 yearly (Rs 6,000 per month) to the bottom 20% of the poor, covering 5 crore families (about 25 crore people). This scheme entails an expenditure of nearly Rs 3.6 lakh crore annually (1.5-2% of GDP).

Assuming that the BJP-led government regains power at the Centre when the results of the general elections are announced on May 23, the moot question that will arise is whether PM-KISAN would achieve the objective of doubling farmers’ income by 2022 and also of the landless agricultural labourers (who constitute a sizeable 25% of poor farmers)? I think both these objectives seem unlikely to be achieved simply because the amount Rs 6,000 per year is too meagre and limited to landowning farmers and not landless agriculture labourers. It is also thought that such a small amount may not even impress the poor farmers and, therefore, the BJP may not have gotten extra votes on account of this scheme in the general elections. If the Rythu Bandhu Pathakam in Telangana greatly helped the incumbent TRS government to win the state assembly elections with a two-thirds majority in December 2018, it was because the benefit under the Rythu Bandhu was Rs 25,000 per hectare of land (with no cap on landholding size, unlike PM-KISAN).

Now, coming to the Congress’s NYAY, it envisages assuring a monthly income of Rs 12,000 to a household by providing Rs 6,000 per month to the head women (a step towards women empowerment) of the family. Although the amount appears reasonable, there is no clarity on how such a heavy expenditure of Rs 3.6 lakh crore would be managed when we are fiscally so tight. Will the Congress-led government, supposing it comes to power at the Centre, resort to enhanced taxes, which it can ill-afford, or will it cut down on existing farmer subsidies like on water, electricity, seeds, fertiliser, etc, which would be counterproductive? Another alternative would be to cut down expenditure on the ongoing projects and programmes. I do not think there can be any such items without affecting the country’s development and security in many ways. Coming to the implementation aspect, there is no clarity on how the scheme would be implemented in phases. It would have implications for deciding annual outlays, year-on-year, if and when the scheme is rolled out.

It may be remarked in passing that some economists seem sceptical of the success of both PM-KISAN and NYAY, as these provide money without any useful contribution by beneficiaries. It’s against the fundamental principles of economics. In view of all this, the poor of the country would want to know “Kab aayenge acche din?” from the BJP and “Kya ab hoga Nyay?” from the Congress. The MeToo group of our worthy politicians should answer these pertinent questions soon.

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