Farmers’ Produce Bill will affect welfare measures, says Rajasthan Agriculture Minister

The market fee and farmers’ welfare cess will come down sharply in the coming years, adversely affecting mandis and various welfare measures for agriculturists as a result of the Farmers’ Produce Trade & Commerce Bill, says Lalchand Kataria in an interview to The Hindu. Excerpts:

Published - September 19, 2020 04:38 pm IST

Lalchand Kataria. Special Arrangement.

Lalchand Kataria. Special Arrangement.

How is the Farmers’ Produce Trade & Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, passed in the Lok Sabha, going to affect the functioning of mandis? What is the Rajasthan government’s plan for utilisation of 2% farmers’ welfare cess, as the traders had recently observed a strike against its imposition?

The Bill will restrict the application of the Rajasthan Agricultural Produce Markets Act, 1961, to the physical boundaries of mandis and sub-yards managed and run by the market committees formed under the law. The warehouses, silos, cold storages or other structures notified as deemed markets will also feel the impact in addition to the direct collection centres and farmer-consumer yards managed by persons holding licences. The market fee and cess will come down sharply in the coming years, adversely affecting mandis and various welfare measures for agriculturalists. The 2% cess was imposed to facilitate ease of doing farming and boost financial resources on a sustainable basis. It will be utilised for activities such as post-harvest management, market intervention and pledge loan scheme.

How did the COVID-19 lockdown affect the agriculture sector in Rajasthan and what issues did the farmers face in the harvesting of crops and selling their agricultural produce in mandis?

The lockdown made a negligible impact on the agriculture sector though there were difficulties in smooth movement of crop harvesting machinery during its initial stage. Agriculture input shops and machine part shops were allowed to remain open and mandis were also exempted from the lockdown. Farmers were able to sell their produce close to their fields with new mandis being opened and direct purchase licences being issued.

Has the situation of farmers improved during the gradual opening of markets in various phases of unlock? What steps is the State government taking for strengthening the rural economy and protecting the livelihood of farmers?

The gradual opening of lockdown has helped in getting agricultural labourers and reviving the market, especially for perishable farm commodities like fruits, vegetables and flowers. The State government has provided 8.1 lakh maize and 8.2 lakh pearl millet minikits to farmers free of cost during the kharif season. Through a tie-up with Tractors and Farm Equipment Limited, rent-free equipment was provided to small and marginal farmers. The time limit for repayment of short-term cooperative loans for both kharif and rabi crops has been extended.

Was the procurement of wheat, gram and mustard up to the expected levels in the State this year and have the farmers received remunerative prices for their produce?

A record procurement of wheat and black gram at minimum support prices has been achieved this year. Against the Central government’s target of 21.24 lakh tonnes of wheat, 22.25 lakh tonnes were procured from 2.19 lakh farmers, who were paid ₹4,282 crore. Similarly, 6.16 lakh tonnes of gram was procured from 2.38 lakh farmers and ₹3,001 crore were paid to them. The procurement of rapeseed and mustard, at 3.47 lakh tonnes, was less because of the market price of the commodity being higher than the MSP. For 2020-21, the procurement agencies have registered the farmers and allotted the dates as per the Price Support Scheme’s guidelines.

The locust attacks in May and June caused heavy losses to the farmers who were already suffering from the impact of the lockdown. How many districts were affected, which crops were destroyed and how did the State government support the farmers?

We were prepared well in advance for the locust attack and each district had prepared its locust control and management plan, which included resource mapping for availability of tractors, tractor-mounted sprayers, jeeps, etc. More than 200 survey teams were put on job for surveying the locusts, while over 800 tractor-mounted sprayers, 40 to 50 fire tenders, 100 sprayers from Locust Warning Organisation and a helicopter and drones were pressed into service. There was a little damage to the cotton crop initially, but the locusts were fully controlled with intensive efforts. There are no locusts in Rajasthan for the last 15 days.

Have the flagship schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana benefited the farmers and is the State government satisfied with the Centre’s help to address agricultural distress?

More than 1 crore farmers in the State have benefited from the PMFBY since 2016, with claims worth ₹10,700 crore having been paid to them. In the revamped scheme, the Central government has capped its previous share of premium subsidy in the ratio of 50:50 to only 25% in irrigated areas and 30% in unirrigated areas. Because of this, the State government has to pay ₹138 crore more than the Centre for insurance of kharif crops in 2020.

Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has laid emphasis on connecting the farmers with the industry and increasing their income. How will you help the farmers in this respect and promote value addition in agriculture?

The Rajasthan Agro-Processing, Agri-Business and Agri-Export Promotion Policy, 2019, has been formulated keeping in mind the development of supply and value chains with special emphasis on a cluster-based approach. Apart from individual farmers, farmer producer organisations will be formed to extend the benefit of collective bargaining in procuring inputs and selling the produce. The 50% subsidy provision for aggregation and collection centres, packhouse, warehouse, cold storage, reefer van, etc., will strengthen the supply chain. Similar facilities for processing units will enable them to harness the benefits of value addition in terms of higher prices of produce.

What are the salient features of this policy and how does it propose to evolve a vibrant connection between the farmers and industry for improving their economic conditions?

Since the inception of the policy, the proposals for 137 projects with an investment of about ₹250 crore have been received till the first week of September. Of them, 53 proposals with a subsidy of ₹18.12 crore have been sanctioned. The policy financially supports farmers and their organisations with the capital subsidy at 50%, subject to a maximum of ₹1 crore, and interest subsidy at 6% per annum on bank loans. Also, operational expenses and reimbursement of electricity tariff for five years are provided to the beneficiaries. This is a comprehensive policy formulated to harness the potential available for developing supply chains and value addition to various products of agriculture and allied sectors.

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