Even though the country is in the grip of an unprecedented agrarian crisis and many parts are experiencing severe drought conditions, Union Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Minister Radha Mohan Singh says there is nothing to worry. “The government is fully geared to meet the challenges. All precautionary measures have been taken to help farmers deal with the crisis. They need not fear anything,” he said in a telephonic interview from Motihari, Bihar.
Excerpts from the interview:
Ground reports suggest that there is a severe drought-like condition prevailing in most parts of the country. What is the government’s assessment of the situation? And how are you planning to deal with it?
Yes, we are aware that many parts of the country are under drought and the situation is serious. Already 10 States have declared drought and have written to us for relief. We are taking all efforts to deal with the crisis. We have increased the relief amount and already released Rs.12,000 crore to eight of these 10 States. This amount is already substantially more than the entire relief amount released during 2010-11 and 2013-14. We are in the process of releasing the relief amount to two more States. The relief amount that has been already released is the biggest after Independence. We are fully geared to meet the challenges lying ahead.
Did the government take any precautionary measures in view of the shortage of rainfall and other indications of an impending drought?
Yes, our scientists had warned us of the impending drought-like conditions. That is why the government initiated measures to mitigate the crisis. We had asked scientists to develop drought-resistant seeds, and they have produced 93 varieties of such seeds. These seeds have already been distributed to farmers in the rain-deficit areas. This has ensured that sowing in these areas has not been affected as much as it would have if we didn’t have these drought-resistant seeds.
We have also ensured that maximum irrigation facilities are provided to farmers so that crop output is not affected so much. But despite this, we are aware that crop production can be hit, and we have taken measures to compensate the farmers in such an eventuality.
We have made far-reaching changes in the crop insurance scheme. The new crop insurance programme, which is going to be implemented from April this year, is going to be the biggest relief programme in the country.
We have also called for contingency plans from all 630 districts. We have already mobilised the administrative machinery to deal with any crisis.
But we have seen in the past that at times the crop insurance amount given to farmers is ridiculously low. What are the features of your new crop insurance scheme and how is it going to be different from the earlier one?
In the earlier scheme, there was a cap on the amount given and this resulted in some incongruities in the relief amount given to farmers. Now these incongruities have been removed: the cap has been done away with. Ab jitna nuksaan, utna relief milega . [The farmers will get insurance for their entire crop loss.]
Similarly, we have reduced the premium amount to be paid by the farmers. This is the lowest ever premium. Now farmers will only have to pay 2 per cent premium for the kharif crop and 1.5 per cent for the rabi crop. These measures, we hope, will go a long way in mitigating the problems faced by farmers.
We have also used technology and ensured that there is continuous interface between scientists and farmers so that farmers can avail themselves of the latest scientific measures. For example, we have ensured extensive soil-testing measures, which to some extent gives the farmers an idea of the soil condition, which crops to sow, what seeds and fertilizers to use, what other measures to take in order to improve soil fertility.
Our scientists and farmers have really worked hard, and we are confident that together we will be able to manage the crisis. We can assure the farmers that there is nothing to fear.