Exclusive: 30% of PM Kisan Funding to Go Unspent as Centre Doesn’t Know How Many Farmers India Has

The agriculture ministry's initial estimate of 14.5 crore 'farmer families' may come down to about 10 crore.

This is the first article in a two-part series on the PM Kisan scheme.

New Delhi: The government will be unable to spend a large chunk of the Rs 75,000 crore allocated to be spent under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi in the 2019-20 financial year, according to agriculture ministry joint secretary Vivek Aggarwal.

In an interview with The Wire, Aggarwal, who also is the CEO of PM Kisan, said that the actual spending under the programme is likely to be Rs 50,000 crore in 2019-20, implying that approximately Rs 25,000 crore, or 33% of the original allocation, will remain unutilised.

Aggarwal gives two reasons for this. Firstly, the number of farmer families in India might actually be less than the 14.5 crore that was initially estimated. Secondly, certain state governments have delayed providing – or not provided, as in the case of West Bengal – data pertaining to farmers in their respective states.

The key issue here is that when PM Kisan was launched, the government did not have a database of farmers in the country, a sign that the programme was perhaps pushed out quickly to quell farmer anger before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Watch | Jaunpur: Rs 2,000 of PM Kisan Fund Deducted From Thousands of Accounts

The scheme was launched in February 2019, a few months before the Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre was up for re-election, when interim finance minister Piyush Goyal announced that the government of India will be providing small and marginal farmer families with Rs 6,000 per annum as a direct transfer in three equal instalments.

After being re-elected in the Lok Sabha elections, the government announced that the scheme would no longer be restricted to small and marginal farmers and would be extended to all farmers in the country.

The scheme was to cost the exchequer Rs 75,000 crore for the 2019-20 financial year. An allocation of Rs 20,000 crore was made retrospectively for the 2018-19 financial year in order to provide the first instalment of the scheme for the period December 2018 to March 2019. Only Rs 8,000 crore of that 2018-19 allocation was spent according to a report in the Financial Express.

Considerations were also made to increase the allocation for 2019-20 by Rs 12,000 crore as initially the amount was budgeted keeping in mind that the transfer will be made to 12.5 crore small and marginal farmers. But with the post-election announcement that all farmer families – estimated to be Rs 14.5 crore – will benefit, more money would have to be allocated.

That, however, has not happened and will not happen, based on the information provided by the PM Kisan CEO. In fact so far, only Rs 26,000 crore, or 34% of this year’s allocation, has been spent. Aggarwal is of the view that the Rs 75,000 crore initially allocated cannot be spent fully this financial year.

“See, when we reach the 100% level of implementation then we will be utilising the entire Rs 75,000 crore each year. But, that will not be possible this year. It is likely that we touch Rs 50,000 crore. But, eventually it will happen. Next year we may touch Rs 70,000 or Rs 60,000 crore. But, this year it will be slightly less than that,” Aggarwal told The Wire.

Also read: Under PM Kisan Scheme, Why is Money Credited Into Some Farmers’ Accounts Quickly Deducted?

One of the reasons, according to Aggarwal, is that the number of farmer families in the country might be less than the 14.5 crore originally estimated.

Critics, like political analyst and politician Yogendra Yadav, agree that this is a problem.

“I think one of the key issues with PM Kisan is that the government does not know how many farmers there are in the country. When the scheme was announced they did not have a system of implementing it. It was only announced to quell farmers’ anger and benefit in the elections,” said Yadav.

Yadav is right when he says that the government does not have a database of all farmers in the country and Aggarwal accepts this.

The ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare is hoping that the PM Kisan exercise will also provide it with that much needed database.

The original estimate of number of farmer families in the country was based on the agriculture census of 2015-16, which pegged the number of operational landholdings in the country at 14.65 crore.

Also read: Ground Report: What Farmers Had to Say About Modi Govt’s Income Support Scheme

That number, however, was never going to be an accurate figure because operational landholdings in the country need not be the same as the number of farmer families in the country.

For instance, two landholdings being cultivated by the same ‘farmer family’ will be recorded as two landholdings in the agriculture census but count as one ‘farmer family’ for the purposes of PM Kisan.

On the other hand, one landholding being cultivated by two farmer families will be counted as one landholding for the agriculture census, but two farmer families will receive the benefit of PM Kisan – provided both parties have part ownership over the piece of the land.

The impact of the second scenario can already be seen in the case of Punjab where the number of landholdings as per the agriculture census were 10.93 lakh, but the PM Kisan database lists 17.52 lakh beneficiaries in the state as on October 23, 2019.

The ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare is of the view that this is because there tend to be multiple owners of one piece of land in the case of Punjab.

Also read: Will the PM Kisan Scheme Impress India’s Farmers?

Since the exercise of registering farmers under PM Kisan is still on, it is too soon to say that whether on a national level the number of farmer families eligible to benefit will be lower than the 14.5 crore originally or higher. Technically, it could be either.

But, the sense at the ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare is that the number would be lower. “Now, some states – like the southern states – are saying that they don’t have any more farmer data. That means that our original estimate of 14.5 crore may come to down to say about 10 crore,” said Aggarwal.

This guesstimate is lower than the 11.87 crore figure for number of cultivators provided by the Census of 2011.

Varied terminology

Another reason for the difference in numbers is the different definitions used by the agriculture census and PM Kisan.

Operational landholdings are defined by the ministry of statistics and program implementation as a piece of land which is being used for agriculture and it does not consider the legal status or title of the land.

On the other hand, under PM Kisan a farmer family is defined as a family comprising husband, wife and minor children who own cultivable land as per the land records of the state or union territory concerned.

A farmer removes dried plants from his parched paddy field on the outskirts of Ahmedabad. Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave/Files

The definitions, thus, are slightly different. The agriculture census focuses on land used for cultivation without regard for the title of the piece of land in question. Under PM Kisan, the spotlight is on a peasant family with a clear legal title on the land.

That would exclude, from receiving the benefit of PM Kisan, all those who cultivate land without title to it. So, a large number of those who are farmers will not receive the benefit of PM Kisan.

According to the ministry’s national policy for farmers, a farmer is defined as ‘a person actively engaged in the economic and/or livelihood activity of growing crops and producing other primary agricultural commodities’.

Also read: Exclusive: Agricultural Loans Worth Rs 59,000 Crore Went to 615 Accounts in One Year

The key here is that a farmer who does not own land is still described as a farmer as per the ministry’s own policy. PM Kisan – and kisan literally means farmer – is a scheme which was announced with the intention of providing an income support to farmers. But, in effect, farmers who don’t own land are excluded.

The number is not small either. According to the Census of 2011, the number of agricultural labourers – those who work on the land of others for wages – in India is 14.43 crore.

As per the ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare definition in the national policy, these agricultural labourers would be categorised as farmers.

The number of cultivators, at 11.87 crore, ought to be added to the number of agricultural labourers to arrive at the total number of farmers in the country. The number of farmers in the country would thus be 26.3 crore according to Census data and the ministry’s definition of farmers.

So, the PM Kisan scheme itself is not designed to benefit each farmer household in the country as the definition excludes those who do not have legal title to the land they cultivate.