One of the most that Narendra Modi began his prime ministership with was that he would introduce reforms to finally make the economy work for the country’s farmers. He pledged to double farmer incomes by 2022-23, his gift to the country in the 75th year of its independence. However, on May 31, 2021, Ramesh Chand, a member of the government’s think tank Niti Aayog, . Why? Because state governments hadn’t taken adequate action, he claimed.
But this can’t be chalked up to a near miss just because one variable in the equation fell through. As late as March 2021, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar told the parliament that the government’s “latest” farmer income numbers were for 2012-2013; they had not started any process to collect this information; they also did not have any way of tracking if the said income was rising due to the policies introduced by the government.
The government maintains they don’t actually need the income details to fulfill the promises they have made about increasing farmer incomes. How then is this impossible feat achieved?
The ‘invisible’ data hack
The government has proposed an easier hack for proving that farmer incomes have been doubled. In the March 2021 session of the parliament, questions about doubling farmer incomes led to the agriculture ministry breaking open a list of schemes it had launched. It suggested that monitoring the performance of these schemes was enough to show that action was being taken and that the goal was within reach.
This impression belies the truth. The ministry shared a long list of 17 schemes with a cumulative budget allocation of Rs 17,540 crore for 2020-21. A closer look indicates that a measly Rs 5,787 was actually spent. This is just 33 percent of the total budget. In case of three of the schemes, not a rupee had been spent.
The ministry’s responses to the parliamentary questions suggest that its schemes reach only about 10 percent of the total farmer population on an average.
As per the last government estimate in 2013, there were in India. The Modi government’s highly publicised PM Kisan scheme, which provides an income support of Rs 6,000 a year in three equal installments to farmer households, has so far benefitted 10.74 crore, or 10 percent, of the farmer households in the country.
The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, the central government’s flagship crop insurance scheme launched in 2016, covers only 23 crore farmer households as of today. The soil health card scheme, introduced in 2014-15 to test soil samples of individual farmers and inform them about the nutrient deficiencies, has so far reached only 11 crore farmers. The coverage of other central schemes is even more limited.