The confrontation between the farmers and the central government has reached an all-time high as the farmers accused the Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar of misleading the country with his statement on the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund. Tomar, after the first cabinet meeting post reshuffle, said that the government has decided to include Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees, prominently known as APMCs, into the list of beneficiaries of Rs 1 lakh crore fund. The mandis can develop their infrastructure with the fund. The farmers allege that skulduggery of the Centre remains in spinning of the facts and portraying a mere change in the guidelines as the biggest investment in the agriculture sector.
A Press Information Bureau release on April 28 this year defined the fund as “medium long term debt financing facility for investment in viable projects for post-harvest management infrastructure and community farming assets through interest subvention and credit guarantee”. It said, “The duration of the scheme is from FY2020 to FY2029 (10 years). Under the scheme, Rs. 1 Lakh Crore will be provided by banks and financial institutions as loans with interest subvention of 3% per annum and credit guarantee coverage under CGTMSE for loans up to Rs. 2 crores.” Eligible beneficiaries include farmers, FPOs, PACS, marketing cooperative societies, SHGs, Joint Liability Groups (JLGs), multipurpose cooperative societies, agri-entrepreneurs, start-ups, and central/state agency or local body sponsored public-private partnership projects.
Talking about the fund and the statement to the NewsClick over phone, Ashok Dhawale, President, All India Kisan Sabha, termed the changes ‘cosmetic’ to woo the common people who have very little knowledge about the whole issue. He said, “The farmers have successfully delivered a message to the masses that APMCs will be destroyed by one of the acts. So, they are under tremendous pressure to counter the narrative. Why I am saying that it is merely a cosmetic change is because we have enough experience of this government befooling people by big announcements but delivering nothing. It is interesting to note that there are no budgetary provisions supporting the announcement. How can farmers believe them? Third, if I were to take the amount on its face value, the amount would be too less to be distributed amongst the mandis for development of the premises and storage facilities.”
Citing his own example, Dhawale went on to add that the real challenge for a farmer from Maharashtra -- from where I hail -- is to travel to APMC mandis 60 kilometres away from their homes. Even if they reach there, there is no guarantee that they will get the price. So, the APMC has to be closer to their homes. “Above all, we have demanded that there be a law penalising anyone who purchases the crop below the minimum support price.”
Echoing similar sentiments, Darshan Pal, President, Krantikari Kisan Union, said, “Referring to the one lakh crore Agriculture Infrastructure Fund is highly misleading because there has been no allocation of even thousand crores from the government. It has merely created a new head under which loans can be accessed from the banks. The actual financing is dependent on regular commercial banks, and India's story of banking sector mismanagements and collusions with big capitalists is well-known. The government's role is only to provide an interest subvention of a mere 3% and some credit guarantee coverage. Only Rs.208 crores were allocated for AIF in the revised budget of 2020-21, and Rs 900 crores in the Budget for 2021-22.”
“Moreover, even in terms of loans, only Rs 3,241 crores were sanctioned from AIF as of March 2021 (Rs 4,300 crore as per some subsequent media reports), whereas the AIF was announced to be a Covid-19 rescue package as though it would immediately infuse Rs 1 lakh crore into agriculture. It is because the Modi government was allowed to get away with its fraudulent announcement of Rs 20 lakh crore Atmanirbhar Bharat package that Indian economy is still in doldrums,” added Pal.
Pal added that the fund was actually introduced as a precursor to three farm laws. “It was on May 15, 2020 that Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced AIF of “one lakh crore rupees" as part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat package, and it is well worth noting that she announced it for "aggregators and start-ups" in the agriculture post-harvest infrastructure sector including warehouses and cold chains,” he told NewsClick.
Protests intensify in Haryana
Samyukta Kisan Morcha on Saturday said that the farmers’ protests are intensifying in Jind, Yamunanagar, Hisar and Kurukshetra over the pending demand of withdrawing the cases against the protesters. Morcha, in a press note said, “Minister Kamlesh Dhanda was greeted with black flags in Kurukshetra yesterday. Even after the Minister's meeting venue was shifted, protesting farmers reached there and waved black flags. Some farmers were detained and released later. In Jind, there were protests against a BJP meeting today. Today, in Hisar too, BJP State President Om Prakash Dhankar had to face black flag protests when he went to join a party meeting. In Yamunanagar too, there were fierce protests against a BJP meeting there by local farmers today, where they protested against Minister Mool Chand Sharma.”
The farmers’ leaders, in a meeting with administration, gave an ultimatum till July 24 to withdraw the cases registered against farmers in different protests. The morcha added, “In one more round of negotiation that happened with the district administration in Hisar, there was no resolution that emerged to the issue of false cases foisted against 350 protesting farmers on 16th May. Several SKM leaders participated in this meeting that lasted for more than two hours, where they reminded the administration of the agreement of May 24th where all cases were agreed to be withdrawn but no conclusion was reached. A deadline of July 24th was given to the administration for withdrawal of cases, failing which the farmers' organisations would intensify their protest.
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