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Cong Manifesto Promises Separate Budget for Farm Sector

In Nation, Political News
April 03, 2019

NEW DELHI:
Seeking to address the issue of distress in the farm sector, the Congress for the first time promised on Tuesday to have a separate budget for farmers and help them move from “karz maafi to karz mukti” (from loan waiver to freedom from indebtedness).

With a special focus on agriculture in its manifesto for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls, the opposition party alleged that the sector had been driven into a “deep crisis” under the BJP-led government and that farmers were denied an adequate minimum support price (MSP) for their produce for four years. It further alleged that the farmers of the country were left to fend for themselves with little or no support from the government.

The Congress also promised to enhance the work days under MGNREGA from the present 100 to 150 and make failure to repay farm loans a civil offence instead of criminal at present. The party also said the NYAY (minimum income guarantee) scheme would ensure that the poor people and farmers would get Rs 72,000 per year, which would fuel the economy and in a way, remonetise what Prime Minister Narendra Modi had demonetised.

“In order to ensure priority to the issues affecting the agriculture sector, we will present a separate Kisan Budget,” the party said in its manifesto. “We will not stop with just providing ‘karz maafi’ (loan waiver). Through a combination of remunerative prices, lower input costs and assured access to institutional credit, we will set our kisans on the path to ‘karz mukti’ (freedom from indebtedness),” it added.

On the basis of past experience, the Congress would re-design MGNREGA and provide for increasing the guaranteed days of employment up to 150 days a year in cases where 100 days have been achieved in a block or district, the party said. The manifesto said the Congress governments in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan had waived farm loans, adding that the party “promises to waive the outstanding farm loans in other states as well”.

Releasing the document, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the separate budget for farmers would be on the lines of the railway budget and have a special focus on the agriculture sector. “We have envisaged two big things for the farmers — one, we will have a separate budget for them like the railway budget, so that they know how much is being given to them and how much the MSP has been increased.

“The other historic step is that if a farmer is unable to repay his loan, it will be considered a civil offence and not a criminal one. This is a historic step,” Gandhi told the gathering at the manifesto release programme. “Today we released #CongressManifesto2019, through which resonates the voice of thousands of Indians we spoke to, as a part of our exhaustive consultative process. This manifesto lists our commitments to the people of India,” the Congress chief later said in a tweet.

The grand old party said it had heard the cry of anguish of farmers and felt the pain of their acute distress, adding that no criminal proceedings would be allowed against those failing to repay their farm loans. “Debt is a civil liability and we will not allow criminal proceedings to be instituted against a farmer who is unable to pay his/her debt,” the party said in the manifesto.

Former finance minister and chairman of the Congress’s manifesto committee P Chidambaram said, “I conceive that it is un-implementable by the government and why do you assume that the future government wants to implement it.” Asked about the BJP’s charge that the Congress’s manifesto was “un-implementable”, he said, “The prime minister would not touch the subjects of farmers’ distress, security for women and children.

“It is implementable by a competent and wise government and the Congress will provide a wise and competent government and implement this manifesto.”
Chidambaram said the promises made in the manifesto were for a period of five years, adding, “It does not happen a day after the government assumes office.”

The Congress also promised to establish a permanent National Commission on Agricultural Development and Planning consisting of farmers, agricultural scientists and agricultural economists to advise the government on how to make agriculture viable, competitive and remunerative. It said the recommendations of the commission should ordinarily be binding on the government and it would subsume the existing Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices and recommend appropriate MSPs.

The opposition party also said it would establish a Commission on Marginal Farmers and Agricultural Labour to advise on policies and programmes that will help them earn higher wages and from non-crop based agriculture such as horticulture and floriculture, dairy and poultry farming.

“We will completely re-design the BJP government’s failed Fasal Bima Yojana (Crop Insurance Scheme) that has only enriched the insurance companies at the cost of the farmers. We will direct the insurance companies to offer crop insurance and charge premiums on the principle of ‘no profit, no loss’,” it said.

The Congress also promised to work with the state governments to digitise land ownership and land tenancy records. It promised that the distortions that had crept into the text and implementation of the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 and the Forest Rights Act, 2006 would be removed and the original purposes of the Acts restored and enforced.