PM-KISAN has completed two years, and the praise it has won from the people of India, especially the poor farmers, has certainly made it a showcase benefit scheme for the farmer. However, it is extremely depressing to see certain politicians seeking to obstruct such schemes because of selfish political motives.
The prime example of this behaviour is Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress chief and Chief Minister of West Bengal. Only in December 2020 did the Bengal CM agree to implementing the scheme in the state, ensuring that the farmers of the state lost out for two years vis-à-vis their compatriots in several other states. The reasons were rather conspicuous – the state government gave a list of only 2.5 lakh farmers, and was insistent on distributing the money itself. This is contrasted by the Prime Minister’s speech in Bengal few days back, where he wishes to cover 70 lakh farmers using Direct Benefit Transfer.
The Stark Realities of Agriculture in Bengal
Agriculture, as per the West Bengal government’s own data, grew at a range between 18 and 21 per cent between 2015-16 and 2017-18, with a decline seen in this three-year period. This would make Derek O’Brien’s claim of 30 per cent decadal growth next to impossible.
Not only is this claim problematic, this rather fantastic claim of receiving merely ₹1,214 per acre is also belittling the farmer of Bengal. Of the 71.23 lakh farmers in the state, an overwhelming majority of 96 per cent are small and marginal farmers. As per a 2019 report of Financial Express on an NSSO survey:
Agricultural households in Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Odisha, and Uttar Pradesh have an average monthly income of less than ₹5,000. Hence, the income generated by a farmer in these states is Rs 166 per day to survive an entire household.
This income of agricultural households in the country is estimated by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) through the ‘Situation Assessment Survey’, lower than the 22 state average of ₹10,000, as per the repeat survey conducted during NSS 70th round during 2013.
How can one be sure then that ₹6,000 is a measly amount?
Bengal Government’s Zero Suicide Theory While UP Farmers Benefit
There are other ways the Bengal government has been rather coy about the real state of Bengal’s farmers. The government has claimed zero farmer suicides in the state, trying to hide the status by all means possible.
The irony is that a 2017 Vishwa Bharati University study on farmer suicides in West Bengal had found that Burdwan and Hooghly, two agriculturally developed districts, were found to be the hot spot of farmers’ suicide in West Bengal. The study saw the reason in the cropping pattern in these two districts, presently skewed towards potato and summer paddy. Clearly there are problems if the potato industry farmers were committing suicide even before potato was removed from the essential commodities list.
Farmers’ suicide in West Bengal was connected to market failure in cash crops that required substantial borrowing to purchase farm supplies. Most of the victims took loans to cultivate their land; however, they did not get any remunerative price for their product, leaving them indebted without any prospect of repaying these loans. Driven to desperation and social embarrassment, they took their own lives.
Income realized by the crop farmers in the study area is very low. Apart from very low income, increased cost of cultivation and rising cost of living particularly towards health care and meeting social obligations pushed the farmers to borrow.
Contrast this what the UP farmers did with PM-KISAN. A January 2020 survey of Uttar Pradesh by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) showed that 52 percent of those who received the first instalment of the PM KISAN Samman Nidhi spent it on agriculture, 26 percent on consumption, 7 percent on education and health, and the remaining 16 percent on other incidental expenses (such as festivals, marriages, and the like). Second-instalment recipients spent 39 percent on consumption, followed by agriculture (23 percent) and education and medical needs (19 percent).
Given the light of circumstances, one hopes that the West Bengal government, especially Mamata Banerjee who talks about ‘Maa, Maati and Manush’, will not be a hindrance to the scheme and let us save the farmers in Bengal while there is still hope.