Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Indian farmers march against government program

Written by By Malumani Alagiri, CNN

Once-major road and rail routes in parts of India were shut down over the weekend by angry farmers, who marched to demand more money to help them defray the costs of transporting their crops.

“The central government is passing a law which is against the farmers, because it won’t deliver anything to the farmers, who need their money for investment or to buy land,” Jai Singh, a farmer from Rajasthan state, told CNN at a protest in Jodhpur, central India.

His claim was echoed by other farmers, some from as far as Jodhpur district, who complained that the initiative is completely different from the deal struck by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government earlier this year.

Last January, the government granted a promise of a $1 billion bailout to help farmers facing spiraling debt. The so-called Jan Dhan Yojana is aimed at promoting banking services for India’s almost one billion unbanked and excluded people.

Yet, despite the large amount of money promised, financial institutions have so far only managed to find $480 million of it. The agriculture ministry says the project still needs to raise about $3 billion in the next eight months, according to news agency IANS.

Moreover, government officials stress the scheme will only help small farmers, who have historically accounted for over 70% of India’s agricultural production.

“(It’s) unlikely to make any significant inroads into the large sections of farmers who own 500 square meters (5,580 square feet) of land and have to provide bank loans of up to 25 million rupees ($340,000),” L.B. Mehta, professor of agriculture economics at the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow, told CNN.

“Even if the new scheme helped small farmers like me, they would still remain an average of 10 million small and marginal farmers.”

To underscore his point, Singh said that he would be able to access the bank under the old scheme, even though his land is spread over 500 square meters. The average landholding is now 2,048 square meters (21,000 square feet), with larger farms averaging between 4,000 and 5,000 square meters (38,500 square feet to 41,000 square feet), Mehta said.

On Saturday, frustrated farmers marched from neighbouring Rajasthan state into Jodhpur, demanding that the central government and state governments throughout India do more to help them access loans and other financial services. The protest has come days after a gunman ambushed a convoy of trucks carrying grain in Gujarat state, killing two people.

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