In the interim budget presented on 1 February, 2019 by the Modi government, an income transfer scheme, called the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi or PM-Kisan. It was announced with just a few months to go for the general elections in order to assuage the anger of peasants reeling under a long period of agrarian distress. The then Finance Minister Piyush Goyal called it “historic" and said the scheme will pave the way for peasants to live respectable lives.
The scheme promised to pay Rs.6,000 every year to each of the 12 crore farmer families in India who own less than five acres of land. The payment will be made in three equal instalments of Rs 2,000 during the year to beneficiaries.
Recently, the Centre decided to extend the benefit of this scheme to 14.5 crore farmers, irrespective of the size of their landholding. The scheme would cost Rs 87,217.50 crore annually.
Several peasant organisations have angrily rejected the scheme saying that it is will not meet even a significant proportion of their household expenses, leave alone payments against debt.
According to data from the All India Financial Inclusion Survey (NAFIS) released by Nabard in August last year, on an average, farm households earn about Rs.8,931 per month. This itself is a fraction of the minimum wages that workers all over India are demanding per month. An income support of Rs.500 per month implies that monthly incomes of peasant families will rise by a mere 5.6%. This is the reason why peasant organizations have termed it a “joke".
Data from the NAFIS survey showed that average outstanding debt per indebted farm household was a staggering Rs.1,04,602 in 2015-16, more than 17 times the income support provided by the central government.
The scheme has also been severely criticised for leaving out tenant farmers and agricultural labourers who are among the worst affected by rural distress.
The government claims that till date the first installment has been credited to 3.29 crore beneficiaries and the second installment to 2.85 crore beneficiaries. This is about one-fifth of the target promised by the government. This means that not only is the amount of money transfer pathetically insignificant to meet the needs of distressed families, it has also reached only a small proportion. It is a known fact that even when direct cash transfers are made to bank accounts, there is not guarantee that it will reach the intended beneficiary, since a significant proportion of peasants do not know how to operate their accounts.
Registering for the PM-Kisan scheme is an arduous process. When criticised for the low coverage, the government gave the justification that the peasant’s application has to go through multi-level verification and validation by several agencies including banks. The rejected data is returned to the State by the Centre for corrections and this may go through several iterations. It is clear that the PM-Kisan scheme is very similar to earlier schemes like the Prime Minister’s Crop Insurance Scheme (February 2016), the electronic National Agriculture Market or eNAM (April 2016), and PM-AASHA, a scheme to ensure support price-based procurement of pulses and oilseeds (September 2018). These schemes are announced with much fanfare and then all kinds of obstacles are placed in front of peasant families to avail these schemes.
Peasant organisations all over India have been conducting demonstrations against the non-receipt of even the first instalment of the scheme. The peasants of Kudiraikulam village in Kayattar Circle in Tuticorin district of Tamilnadu have taken up this issue very vigorously nd have sent a petition to the District Collector. They have been agitating under the banner of the Thamizhaga Vivasayigal Sangam.