At a time when the BJP-led government at the Centre is attempting to hand-over control of the Indian agriculture sector to private players, the Kerala government has decided to form a Welfare Fund Board for farmers, the first of its kind across the country. Though the Farmers Welfare Fund Board Bill had been tabled earlier in the state assembly, the state cabinet on Wednesday approved and announced the formation of a welfare board.
The Kerala legislative assembly had passed the Farmers Welfare Board Bill, 2018, with amendments suggested by the select committee in November 2019. The Farmers Welfare Board Act aims to provide more security to farmers and their families, V.S. Sunil Kumar, the minister for agriculture, said in a Facebook post.
On September 9, the Left Democratic Front government in the state had announced a royalty of Rs 2,000 per hectare to owners of cultivable paddy land beginning this year, as encouragement to retain their fields for paddy cultivation. The government had already earmarked Rs 118.24 crore in the 2020-21 state budget for the integrated development of paddy cultivation.
People who have adopted farming as a source of income for at least three years can register at the board. Farmers between 18 and 55 years of age can register with the board; however, they should not be part of any other welfare fund projects. Those who have already been enrolled under the Kisan Abhiyan project can move to the new scheme as well.
Farmers with a minimum of five cents of land, to a maximum of 15 acres of their own land or leased land, will be entitled for pension after they cross the age of 60. Plantation farmers – rubber, coffee, tea, cardamom – who have seven and half acres of land will also be entitled for benefits under the scheme.
“We are trying to give a comprehensive support package to farmers in the state. Apart from the traditional farmers, plantations and farms will also be under this scheme. We have kept an annual income of Rs five lakh as the maximum limit to be part of this scheme. Now that the Bill has been passed, we hope to set up the board in three to six months,” said Sunil Kumar.
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As the minister had promised earlier, the definition of agriculture, as per the Act, includes the use of land for agricultural purposes, including horticulture, medicinal plant cultivation, nursery management, fish, ornamental fish, mussels, bees, silkworms, poultry, ducks, goats, rabbits, and livestock.
Members of the Welfare Fund are required to pay a monthly stipend. It is also possible to pay the entire amount for six months or one year together. The minimum monthly payment is Rs 100. The government will also contribute an equivalent of up to Rs. 250 to the fund. Each trader is required to contribute one per cent of their annual profits to the fund as an agricultural incentive.
Other than the pension, benefits include aid for those who are suffering from chronic illnesses; aid for the members’ or their children’s education and marriage and compensation for the member and their family in the case of an accident, wildlife attack, poisoning or death.
Pension for Farmers
Farmers who have paid their share for at least five years, without arrears, and remain members of the Welfare Fund will be entitled to pension once they cross the age of 60. The family of a farmer who dies after paying for at least five years, without arrears, is also entitled to the pension.
Farmers who are unable to continue farming due to health issues will be given a monthly pension up to the age of 60. Those who are physically disabled due to illness or an accident will be given disability benefits. Medical assistance will be given to those who are the part of life insurance and medical insurance coverage as decided by the Board.
The Board has been constituted after detailed discussions with farmers and the people's representatives. The minister said that the Welfare Fund Board is a big step in the history of farmers in Kerala.