With an eye on coming Assembly elections, the central government is planning to expand its flagship programme, the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana (PM-KISAN). It feels the scheme has helped assuage farmers’ anger over falling prices.
Officials said special attention was being paid to enrol farmers in Maharashtra and Haryana where elections are due in a few months. Both states have Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led governments.
Farmers can directly call the PM-KISAN helpline for registration. “We are talking with district officials, patwaris and lekhpals (local officials who maintain record of farm land and crop production) directly from New Delhi to ensure that at no level there is any bottleneck,” a senior official added.
A war room has been created in the Ministry of Agriculture to monitor PM-KISAN. Senior officials are on duty to ensure that grievances are addressed quickly.
The PM-KISAN scheme could be the marquee project of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in its second term.
Push in Opposition states
The Centre is pushing states to enrol as many farmers as possible in the shortest possible time. Some Opposition-ruled states, such as West Bengal, that have not yet joined the scheme are being regularly requested to do so.
“We are getting calls from farmers asking us how they can join the scheme, but unless the state government does so, we are helpless,” a senior agriculture ministry official said.
Congress-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan have also expressed their intention to participate in the scheme after dithering for months.
Expansion on cards
The Union Cabinet recently decided to cover all farmers under the scheme which provides Rs 6,000 per year to beneficiaries in three equal instalments. Only small and marginal farmers were covered earlier; now about 145 million of them will be included, irrespective of the size of their holdings.
There are other plans for the scheme as well.
For instance, the government will create a data base to map how each farmer avails subsidies, and how much they spend on seeds, farm machines, equipment and fertilisers.
“A special dashboard is being created with the help of the National Informatics Centre. This will help fetch all details at just one click,” a senior official said.
To begin with, the database generated through the PM-KISAN scheme would be used extensively to target beneficiaries under the Prime Minister’s Farmers Pension Scheme. The government plans to provide a fixed monthly pension of Rs 3,000 to those who are 60 years or older.
Of the 145 million farmers in the country, the government plans to target around 80 million — in the age-group of 18-40 years — through the pension scheme.
The beneficiaries will have to pay a minimum of Rs 100 per month; the Centre will pay an equal amount.
“As we get more and more details of farmers, we will approach them with the pension scheme,” the official said. Farmers will be given an option to offset their PM-KISAN allocation against the premium for the pension scheme.
Sources said the payout per farmer could also be increased to Rs 8,000 per annum, though nothing had been formalised yet.
To make funds available for the expanded version of PM-KISAN, the government might rely on budgetary allocation in the near future. It is now estimated to cost a little over Rs 87,000 crore annually, up from Rs 75,000 crore allocated to it in the Interim Budget for 2019-20.
Over time, however, some schemes of the agriculture minister might be subsumed under it to free up funds.
“Several central schemes and programmes that have run their course and achieved their objectives could be concluded to free up funds for PM-KISAN,” the official said.
Support for plans
The plan to increase the payout to farmers under the PM-KISAN scheme has found support from different quarters.
State Bank of India Group Chief Economic Advisor Soumya Kanti Ghosh, in a research note, said the government must make a statement of intent in the Budget to increase the income support under the PM-KISAN.
“This will... boost consumer sentiment. Our calculations suggest that even if we progressively increase the income support from, say, Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 in the terminal year (inflation indexed) and reduce the fiscal deficit to 3 per cent in 2024, the additional cost for 140 million) farmers over the baseline estimates could be Rs 12,000 crore per annum, same as the revised estimates if only Rs 6,000 was provided to all 140 million during the next five years,” he wrote.