Agriculture: Odisha

Relief in Odisha

Print edition : April 12, 2019

Daily wage labourers in a farm inside the Odisha Agricultural University in Bhubaneswar. Photo: Biswaranjan Rout

THE Naveen Patnaik government’s Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) scheme, launched on December 31, 2018, is all set to empower Odisha’s farmers as the Mission Shakti programme has empowered women in the State. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik seems to have taken a cue from Telangana’s Rythu Bandhu scheme, launched in early 2018, to make this intervention to alleviate farm distress. As farmers’ problems dominated the political discourse following two mega rallies, in Maharashtra and New Delhi, every political party came under pressure to act upon the issue. The victory of the Congress in December in three Hindi heartland States, ostensibly on the promise of farm loan waivers, further prompted Patnaik to find a solution to agrarian distress.

The Narendra Modi government, which was until that time claiming to have done enough by enhancing the minimum support price for paddy to one-and-a-half times the farm input, had to follow suit by announcing the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PMKSN) scheme.

Even before the PMKSN, a scheme of payout to farmers, was announced, Patnaik had announced KALIA. Stating that loan waiver was not the right intervention, he claimed that KALIA would benefit 92 per cent of the cultivators, loanee and non-loanee farmers, sharecroppers and landless agricultural labourers of Odisha.

More than 37 lakh farmers have been extended financial support in the State up to March under KALIA, with a total of Rs.1,851 crore transferred to the accounts of beneficiaries. Another 20 lakh beneficiaries are likely to be covered under the scheme, according to senior officials.

Once the election schedule was announced and the model code of conduct came into force, however, the Election Commission put a hold on disbursements of funds that had been due to be transferred from April 1.

A delegation of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) approached the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Odisha, on March 16 to argue that KALIA assistance to more than 20 lakh farmers should not be stopped. In its letter to the CEO, the BJD said that KALIA was a much-needed programme for the development of agriculture and the welfare of farmers. “KALIA has been hailed as a revolutionary step by eminent economists and agricultural experts in India and across the world,” the party said. “The party urged the CEO not to feel pressured by the arm-twisting tactics of the BJP.”

“The Centre’s model of our KALIA provides less money, less coverage, less benefit, less income generation and less care to the farmers,” said BJD spokesperson Amar Patnaik.

He said that KALIA was inclusive and unlike the Central scheme it had provisions for landless farmers and sharecroppers. KALIA gives Rs.10,000 a year in two instalments to the farmer, whereas the Central scheme gives only Rs.6,000, and in three instalments.

According to Amar Patnaik, who also heads the IT Cell of the BJD, disbursements under KALIA are linked to kharif and rabi crop seasons and therefore have a logical pattern. It will help farmers use the assistance money for inputs. “The rationale of giving assistance in three instalments of Rs.2,000 each under the Central scheme is difficult to comprehend,” he said.

“There are vulnerable families in rural areas who require social security through pensions. KALIA recognises this rural reality and intends to give Rs.10,000 a year to such vulnerable families,” he added. He said target families had been identified. The Chief Minister has stressed on several occasions that no deserving family should be left out. KALIA takes care of the life insurance cover for farmers and intends to provide interest free loans up to Rs.50,000. After the launch of KALIA, the State government went all out to ensure its implementation by mobilising staff at the grass-roots level.

In contrast, the PMKSN scheme, announced shortly before the election schedule was declared, allegedly suffers from inadequate groundwork. No order has been passed on the BJD’s plea to the CEO to allow KALIA disbursements. The BJD plans to turn this into an election issue against the BJP.

Mission Shakti

The Mission Shakti programme, launched in 2001, proved to be runaway success for the BJD government. It brought more than six lakh women’s self-help groups under one umbrella and thus created an exclusive vote bloc for the regional party. For the past 18 years, women’s empowerment has been a major election plank for the Odisha Chief Minister. His party leaders hope that KALIA will also help create a loyal voter base. The PMKSN scheme may not yield similar results for the BJP as it does not cover sharecroppers and landless agricultural labourers.

Naveen Patnaik has written to the Prime Minister saying that the PMKSN scheme would have benefited farmers more if the quantum of assistance equalled or exceeded that of the KALIA scheme. Both schemes, launched ahead of the general elections, will end up being handouts only if they are not implemented in their true spirit.

 

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