Who benefits from tweaking direct benefit transfer to farmers in Maharashtra?

Rahul Wadke Mumbai | Updated on August 26, 2020

The current scheme empowers them to buy farm equipment and farming supplies from vendors and manufactures of their choice   -  S Sudarshan

Experts fear changes in DBT scheme could be beneficial to middlemen and equipment manufactures

Plans are afloat in the Maharashtra government to bring about changes in the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme for farmers. The current scheme empowers them to buy farm equipment and farming supplies from vendors and manufactures of their choice. Farming experts fear that changes in the DBT system could be beneficial to the middlemen and equipment manufactures.

A senior Maharashtra government official said there is strong demand from some State ministers and even local MPs to the Chief Minister for reviewing the DBT scheme, which was adopted by the previous BJP government in December 2016.

The demand is to tweak the scheme so that farm equipment and other essential farm goods are bought by the State government and then distributed to the farmers. In the present form, DBT empowers farmers to purchase the farming equipment and tools of their choices. Once a farmer is eligible for a subsidy, he buys the equipment and submits the receipt to the authorities, upon which the subsidy is directly transferred to his bank account, the official said.

However, some MLAs and ministers maintain that the policy of providing tools to the farmers is not working out as their financial position is weak. Products are not available to them at the shops. Therefore, these products should be excluded from DBT and the older system of the State government buying equipment and then distributing to the farmers should be implemented, the official added.

Why tweak?

Anil Ghanwat, president of Shetkari Sanghatana (a farmers organisation, which has been fighting for the last 40 years for open access to markets and agriculture technology), told BusinessLine that the present system is really good because the farmers have a choice. It has also created competition in the market to provide the best types of equipment and products to the farmers.

The older scheme was driven by State government officials, panchayat members and bureaucracy. Inferior quality pieces of equipment were earlier provided to the farmers, which were junked by the farmers after a couple of years of use. The older scheme was only beneficial to the State Government officials and equipment makers, he added.

Ghanwat pointed out that the subsidy component is constant: “If farmers want to buy a drip irrigation system of a good company, then they can increase his cash contribution and buy it. Farmers’ choice to buy the best quality equipment remains unhindered,” he said.

However, Devanand Pawar, farmer leader and General Secretary of Maharashtra Pradesh Kisan Congress (MPKC), said that he has written to the State government seeking changes in the DBT scheme as it has many lacunas and needs further improvement. Due to the gaps, the funds allocated don’t get spent.

The whole idea of providing subsidy through DBT is because the eligible farmers do not have cash in hand. Under this scheme, the farmer first has to buy the equipment and then claim the money, which at times gets delayed by 12 months. There is a need for a radical change in the scheme, he said.

BusinessLine had reached out to the State Agriculture Secretary and the Agriculture Minister, but haven’t received a reply yet.

Published on August 26, 2020

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