In the last kharif season, Ramesh Shakre sold about 14 quintals of maize in a mandi near Itarsi, about 120 km from Shahpur, under Madhya Pradesh government's much-talked about farmer support scheme, Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana (BBY). Nearly a year on, he hasn’t received a single rupee into his bank account. After making several rounds of the banks in Betul and elsewhere and calling the Bhavantar helpline numerous times, 49-year-old Shakre says he has given up all hope of getting his money. “Bank officials say my documents aren’t upto date, while the mandi people say they are fine,” he says.
The BBY, a novel scheme launched by the Madhya Pradesh government for kharif crops last year, compensates farmers registered under it if their selling price in the market is lower than the official minimum support price (MSP). Designed to protect farmers against falling prices of crops in the aftermath of the farmers’ agitation that rocked Madhya Pradesh in 2016, BBY is India’s first large-scale experiment with deficiency price payment in agriculture.
Though it has had its problems, many farmers continue to put their faith in the scheme. However, the real test of whether or not the it has been a hit with farmers will be when Madhya Pradesh goes to the polls next week.
For now at least, Shakre, is backing BBY, and in spite of his bad experience the first time round, has registered for the scheme again this year. “I have registered 35 quintals of maize and ensured that all my documents are complete and up to date,” he says, adding that if all goes well, he should get the compensatory amount credited to his bank account in the next three-to-four months.
For every 10 farmers in this maize-growing belt of Madhya Pradesh who feel the BBY is flawed, there seems to be an equal number who say they have profited from it. The area is dominated by small and marginal farmers who own less than two hectares of land per head on an average.
“Who says Bhavantar is a bad idea? Look at this heap of maize that I sold today. It is because of Bhavantar that traders are paying almost Rs 1300 per quintal. Last year maize didn’t fetch even Rs 1000-1200 a quintal,” says Laxman Rathore, a young farmer from a nearby village.
Lolling on a stationary tractor, Rathore says that he registered about 30 quintals of the crop under the scheme. When you ask him if Bhavantar involves a lot of paperwork, he shrugs: “Ab kuchh paane ke liye thodi mehnat toh karni padegi (You have to make a little effort to get something)”
Not everyone agrees with that point of view. Ghanshyam Sahu, who runs a farmer-producer company of over 1500 growers in Chorai Mandi of Chhindwara district, declares that the process is extremely tedious and time-consuming.
“For collectives like farmer producer organisations and self-help groups, the government should allow Bhavantar payment even if the produce is procured at farm-gate. Otherwise, the concept of joining small farmers together will be meaningless,” says Sahu.
The government has made an effort to remove some of Bhavantar's pain points this year. The number of documents required for registration is down to just three—a bank passbook, aadhaar card number and details of land registration. However, for farmers, the biggest draw is the flat difference amount which the government announced even before the scheme opened up this year.
“The current version of Bhavantar, called ‘Flat Bhavantar Scheme’, isn’t exactly deficiency price payment," points out Shiraz Hussain, a former union agriculture secretary. "Actually, it is more like a bonus payment."
Rajkumar Verma of village Banka Khodi in Shahpur isn’t complaining. “Till last year we didn’t know whether we would get Rs 500 per quintal under Bhavantar or Rs 250. But this time the government has already declared the price and made the entire process digitised and smooth. Hence, traders are quoting a just price and there hasn’t been any artificial fall in prices,” he says.
According to the state government, as of November 11, around 1.7 million soybean and maize farmers registered for the scheme to sell around 7.8 million tonnes of crops. Out of this, 1.5 million farmers were verified by the revenue department.
Under the scheme’s new system, a unique ID called ‘Kisan Code’ is generated as soon as a farmer registers his produce on the Bhavantar portal. This becomes his passport for all transactions related to the scheme. When he goes to the mandi, he shows the code, which is then verified. If the details are in order, the farmer, armed with the registration document called ‘asthayii parchi’ (temporary receipt), can auction his produce.
Once the produce is auctioned and a price fixed between the buyer and the seller, a pink receipt is issued in three copies in which the Kisan Code is prominently displayed. One copy remains with the farmer, the second with the buyer and the third is deposited in the mandi office.
After weighing the produce, the buyer issues another receipt called the ‘toul parchi’ (weight receipt), a copy of which is similarly kept by the buyer, the seller and deposited at the mandi office. After the mandi officials receive the receipts and records the details, this is fed into a centralised software to initiate the payment to the farmer under Bhavantar.
While many farmers have welcomed the Bhavantar scheme, mandi officials are grumbling about the increase in their work load. “For us work has increased manifold as a lot of records need to kept — otherwise payments get delayed. And then farmers complain on the scheme’s helpline,” exclaims an exasperated Ram Nath Evane, a mandi inspector in Betul.
Sitting in a small room surrounded by curious farmers, Evane shows off his clutch of record books, which he maintains to make sure there are no mistakes. “Digitisation has made the process simpler this time,” he says. The window of sale under Bhavantar closes on January 1, 2019.
Though farmers have continued to enrol under Bhavantar, many feel that instead of paying the difference between the selling price and the MSP at a later stage, the government should procure all crops at the MSP as it does in the case of paddy and wheat. “That would ensure more and immediate payment to us which is much better than this part payment with a time lag,” says Ram Singh Binaki, a maize farmer from Kotmi village in Shahpur.