Already burdened by agricultural woes brought on by excessive, unseasonal rainfall, they are also deprived of government funds due to red tape, bureaucratic technicalities, fear and mutual distrust.
Ranchi: Lack of irrigation facilities has always been a disadvantage faced by farmers in Jharkhand, who primarily depend on wells and rainwater. However, unseasonal rains in October and November 2021, in addition to cyclonic storms and the silent but steady onslaught of climate change, further aggravated their woes.
Dinesh Kerketta is one such farmer whose paddy crop bore the brunt of these extreme weather conditions. Kerketta, from Tilaksutti village, Kulli panchayat of Itki block (30 km from state capital Ranchi), told 101Reporters: "The paddy stored in the barn was beginning to spoil due to the rains from November to December. I had to sell the crop in a hurry because of its perishability. So I could not find the right price to make it profitable, and we only made Rs 27,000."
On seeking government assistance, he shared: "I had applied online for the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Yojana scheme three times; first in 2020 and the last time around six months ago. However, till date, we have not received even a single penny. Had that money been granted, it would have helped us procure fertilisers. Farming is the only hope of the people of our village, but we have no assistance from the government."
Under the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana, Rs 2,000 is given in three instalments every four months (April-July, August-November and December-March) to small and marginal farmers in the country—that is Rs 6,000 annually. This amount is transferred directly into the farmer's bank account. According to the central government website on the scheme, from December 1, 2018, till date, nine such instalments had been granted. The 10th instalment, amounting to Rs 20,000 crore for over 10 crore registered beneficiaries, was released on January 1, 2022.
However, the ground reality is far from what is projected on paper. Though Kerketta and his family's livelihood depends on their eight acres of land, they are yet to receive any funds from the scheme. He said that among his acquaintances in the village, Falinder Kachhap (40; owns 1 acre) and Joseph Lakra (28; owns 4 acres) had also applied for assistance, but had been deprived of any benefits so far. Tribal farmers from Latehar, Khunti and other districts in Jharkhand have similar complaints.
Are the purported benefits of the PM Kisan scheme reaching Jharkhand's tribal farmers?
Not according to these statistics.
In terms of tribal population, Jharkhand ranks fifth among the 10 states with Fifth Schedule Areas covered under the PESA Act—The Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. The Act aims to ensure self-governance through gram sabhas in tribal areas categorised as Scheduled Areas.
However, the number of farmers taking advantage of this scheme is paltry. Jharkhand lagged behind other PESA states in receiving the last two instalments in 2021-22. Of the 30,97,520 registered farmers of Jharkhand, only 17,81,287 (April-July) and 18,04,519 (Aug-Nov) received the benefits. In both these instalments, a feeble 58% farmers in Jharkhand received their payments. In the same time frame, other states show glaring differences in the percentage of beneficiaries that received their payments in April-July and August-November. Jharkhand's payment percentage saw no change even in the 10th instalment released on January 1. With the last instalment of the year till February 5, the beneficiary tally remains skewed.
The PM Kisan scheme website no longer contains caste-wise data on farmers receiving grants from the government. According to the figures collected up to seven instalments in April-May 2021 from the state agriculture department, the percentage of tribal farmers in Jharkhand who received the aid stood at an abysmal 13%. On the contrary, tribal farmers in the neighbouring states of Chhattisgarh and Orissa received 30% and 29% of the aid, respectively—more than twice that of Jharkhand.
Drop in recipient numbers for varied reasons
When questioned why a number of tribal beneficiaries was this frightful in Jharkhand, Praful Linda, Vice President of the Jharkhand State Kisan Sabha, told 101Reporters: "There are numerous reasons for this. Many tribal farmers are beneficiaries of the Forest Rights Act in the state. However, they cannot apply for the PM Kisan Yojana when they don't obtain a forest lease. Secondly, this central government scheme came a year after the previous government had started the land bank scheme in Jharkhand and tried to amend the CNT and SPT Acts. Due to this, tribal farmers feared that the government would confiscate their land on the pretext of giving Rs 6,000 under the PM Kisan Yojana scheme."
Regarding the proposed amendments to the CNT and SPT Acts (Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act 1908, Santhal Parganas Tenancy Act 1949), 71-year-old senior advocate and an expert in Jharkhand's land laws, Rashmi Katyayan, explained: "Both Acts are meant for the tribal-indigenous people of Jharkhand. They give them equal judicial rights to land. In 2016, the Raghubar Das government of the BJP wanted to amend Section 21 of the CNT Act and Section 13 of the SPT Act, which would have destroyed the fundamental spirit of the law. The amendments would have opened doors to the corporate sector."
people across the state had protested for almost a year against these proposed amendments. As a result, the then
BJP government had to retreat in 2017.
In 2016, former chief minister Raghubar Das launched the Jharkhand Land
Bank scheme. At the time, tribal organisations alleged that the government had unconstitutionally included the community
land of tribals in the land bank. An opposition member back then, Hemant Soren had assured them that he would scrap the scheme
after coming to power. However, Soren is the current chief minister of Jharkhand, and
"In two years, Soren could neither provide a forest lease nor remove the fear from the minds of the tribals," he said. "The government had promised to return the tribals their rights over water, forest and land resources, but it does not seem to be making any consolidated effort."
A number of NGOs believe that 70% to 80% of
the state's tribal population lives in forests and are engaged in
agriculture. According to a report,
77 lakh voters in Jharkhand are eligible for a forest
lease under the Forest Rights Act. However, according to government data, less than one lakh voters received it. Among forest leaseholders, Chhattisgarh (4.5 lakh) and Orissa (4.5 lakh) fare far better than Jharkhand.
The Agriculture Department of Jharkhand said that vanpatta (forest lease) holders also fall under the category of beneficiaries of the PM Kisan Yojana. Officially, there are 58 lakh farmers under the Birsa Kisan Yojana, of which 39 lakh are tribal farmers, according to the Jharkhand State Kisan Sabha. Government figures reveal that 76% of the three-and-a-half crore people in Jharkhand live in villages, while 66% are associated with agricultural work.
A farmer works the field in a small village in Raidih, Gumla (Picture credit - Rupesh Sahu)
Bleak promises to counter blatant imbalance
The farmers' complaints and statistics make two facts
apparent. Firstly, among the number of beneficiary farmers registered
under the PM Kisan scheme from Jharkhand, the number of tribal farmers is
markedly less. Secondly, even those registered don't receive the promised amount promptly.
The Agriculture Department has already expressed concern
over the declining number of tribals in these figures. After review, they
said they had discussed every possible effort to increase the proportion of
tribal farmers in the schemes. Their efforts notwithstanding, the
numbers are still on a downward spiral.
Secretary of the Agriculture Department of Jharkhand Abu Bakar Siddique said: "To increase the percentage of tribal farmer-beneficiaries of the scheme, the department is continuously promoting it. We have written to all district collectors to conduct a special campaign. Whenever farmers register themselves to avail this scheme, the numbers are immediately forwarded to the Government of India. However, we are unaware of how many beneficiaries receive the money."
Siddiqui also stressed that there would be a "thorough investigation on why the number of recipients of funds in Jharkhand was so low last year".
"This will also be discussed with the Government of India. Efforts will be made to find out why the farmers are being left out," he concluded.
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