The Congress’s victory in three states has set off a race among three major parties in Odisha to woo farmers ahead of the coming elections. The Congress was, expectedly, the first off the blocks with state president Niranjan Patnaik announcing, even before the last result had come in, that his party would waive farm loans, if voted to power. Once the three new Congress governments signed on the waiver orders, Patnaik went a step ahead and announced that the party would waive farm loans within “five hours” of assuming office.
Not to be left behind, the BJP too followed suit. After this, there was no way the ruling party BJD, which is having to contend with growing farmer disaffection in the state, could have skirted the issue. It finally came up with a comprehensive package worth Rs 10,280 crore spread over three years, which, it claims, would take care of the problems of over three million small and marginal farmers in the state without recourse to the populist gimmick of farm loan waiver.
The scheme envisages financial assistance of Rs 5,000 per farmer at the start of every cropping season, besides livelihood assistance of Rs 12,500 to every landless family; interest-free loans of up to Rs 50,000, insurance cover of Rs 2 lakh for each, and an additional accident cover of Rs 2 lakh.
Retired professor of agricultural economy at the Central Agriculture University Dr Dibakar Nayak believes it will raise income of farmers and create more mandays for them. “But it would not help them much when it comes to increasing productivity of land,” he says.
Though the scheme was announced only after the elections, it had been in the works for a while now. Rising farmer discontent over the last few years had put the state government on the backfoot. Scores of farmers have committed suicide over the last three years, unable to sell their produce at mandis.
With over 60 per cent of the population still engaged in farming and allied activities, it remains to be seen if the package mollifies the farmers enough to help the BJD sail through in 2019.
By Sandeep Sahu in Bhuvaneswar