Major farmers group Bharatiya Kisan Union has demanded a ₹1.5-lakh crore relief package for farmers affected by COVID-19 and lockdown, along with a four-fold increase in the PM-KISAN income support scheme. This comes even as Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar sidestepped questions about a farm sector relief package, saying existing government measures were sufficient.
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, BKU national spokesperson Chaudhary Rakesh Tikait said farmers with perishable produce have been hit especially hard by the lack of transport and labour due to the lockdown.
“The countrywide lockdown caused lack of transportation that led farmers growing fruits and vegetable crops to let their crops rot in the field. At the same time, fair prices of produce were not available in the markets due to lack of demand. As a result, farmers had no choice but to throw away or destroy their crops,” he wrote, noting that there are reports of farmers across India throwing away tomatoes, gourds, cucumber, grapes, oranges and litchis.
He estimated that fruit and vegetable farmers faced 80% crop loss, while many flower farmers lost their entire crop. Though milk is counted as a major essential goods and the government has been making efforts to restore and safeguard the dairy supply chain, dairy farmers have faced 50% losses, he said.
Such extensive losses mean that farmers do not have the funds needed to plant the next kharif or monsoon season crop, said the farmer leader. “Farmers are in a dilemma as the government is not taking the necessary steps to solve their problems,” he wrote, demanding the package to help compensate for the losses faced by horticulture, floriculture, bee keepers, poultry and dairy farmers and the fisheries sector.
For other crops such as wheat, gram, mustard and cotton, the government should ensure full procurement and provide a bonus of ₹200/quintal for wheat farmers facing extended bad weather, he said.
The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme needs to be ramped up to provide ₹24,000 per year to farm families, with the existing ₹6,000 sum given immediately as the first instalment, Mr. Tikait told the PM. He also asked for a loan waiver for horticulture and floriculture farmers and a one-year exemption on paying interest on crop loans for all farmers.
“Even in the face of this crisis, farmers are working in the field, keeping their life in hands,” said the letter. “If farmers had not secured food security, there would have been more starvation deaths than death due to COVID-19 .”