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Bihar has ended subsidy on as many as 48 farm implements, citing financial strain as a result of COVID-19 pandemic. Image Credit: AP

Patna: In a huge blow to the farmer community battling for their survival, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in Bihar headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar has ended subsidy on as many as 48 farm implements, citing financial strain as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.

Bihar joint director, agriculture, JP Narayan said the state government had approved subsidy on only 33 farm implements this fiscal against 81 approved last financial year. That means from now on, the farmers will have to make full payment on purchase of machines such as power tillers and power threshers which don’t figure in the list of 33 farm tools listed for subsidy. This is set to cause huge financial burden to the farmers already battling hard to sell their produce at a reasonable rate.

The officer said this year’s far mechanisation drives focuses on waste management to curtail challenges of stubble or husk burning in the farmlands leading to air pollution. The growing air pollution is not only a cause of concern in the state capital but also in the rural areas.

Under part of the strategy, the subsidy is now being given only on farm implements which help the crop residues assimilate in the soil, such as combine harvester, brush cutter, super seeder, self-propelled ripper and straw management system. “This is the situation right now but we may consider the situation later,” the officer informed.

The state government has already blocked the subsidy and incentives of more than 900 farmers the next three years as they were caught involved in burning crop residues in the fields.

Shortage of funds

An agriculture department official said the government’s move to cut subsidy on so many farm implements has reduced the state’s plan size for subsidy on farm mechanisation to Rs236.90 million in 2020-21 from Rs1.63 billion in the last fiscal. “The state government was compelled to end subsidies on so many farm implements due to shortage of funds as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the official said.

This is not the lone worry for the farmers. The government has also ended subsidies on diesel claiming availability of power has considerably improved in the state. The diesel subsidy was being given to farmers at the rate of Rs60 per litre for the past one decade to irrigate their crops. Last year, the state government had provided diesel subsidy to 600,000 farmers out of total 1.1 million who had applied for this facility while in 2018-19 3 million farmers had availed this facility.

“There was no need to continue subsidy on diesel since power has now reached every village in Bihar and secondly, electricity is cheaper than diesel,” Bihar agriculture minister Amarendra Pratap Singh has told the local media.

These all developments come amid continuing protests by Indian farmers who face threats to their future and genuine rights owing to some recent steps taken by the Narendra Modi government. The agitating farmers have been demanding for repealing the three controversial laws brought by the government and have refused to withdraw their protests despite repeated appeals and assurances by the government.