What The BJP Promised But Failed To Deliver To India’s Farmers

19 Apr 2024 12 min read  Share

A civil society initiative of social science researchers and volunteers has analysed 33 promises related to the farm sector in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s 2019 election manifesto. It found a series of non-starter schemes, much lower investments towards improving farm productivity than promised, and inadequate coverage by welfare schemes such as the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana. The report is part of an effort to build an informed electorate through a promises-versus-performance analysis.

Farmers gather in Mohali, Punjab, in October 2023, to demand implementation of a law to mandate minimum support price for farm produce. It was one of dozens of protest gatherings and marches towards the end of 2023/ SAMYUKTA KISAN MORCHA

Mumbai: In September 2019, the union ministry of agriculture and farmers’ welfare launched a mobile app that then union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar called a ‘revolutionary service’, a digital solution for renting and purchasing tractors and other farm machinery. 

Called FARMS or Farm Machinery Solutions, the app would give farmers the opportunity to earn an additional income from their agricultural equipment, make optimum use of available equipment, and provide a platform for the sale and purchase of old agricultural machinery.  

In the summer of that year, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) election manifesto promised such an app under the heading ‘convergence of agriculture and technology’, one of 33 promises extended as part of the vision to ‘double farmers’ income’ by 2022. 

As of 17 April 2024, while over 50 million farmers were registered on the app—over 98% were records migrated from an existing farmers’ database—the number of farmers who requested a booking was only 11,587. For 885 implements put up for sale in over four years, there were 19 purchasers. 

The FARMS app is among 14 of the 33 (43%) agriculture-related promises included in the BJP’s 2019 manifesto that the civil society initiative Informed Voter Project has graded as ‘very-low’ performance in a report compiled after a rigorous six-month analysis of schemes and projects announced by the government of India towards the fulfillment of the BJP’s election promises. 

The research and analysis was conducted by a team of researchers and volunteers from October 2023 to April 2024, comparing the promises against information and data on government websites, answers by ministries to questions posed by members of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, parliamentary committee reports, Press Information Bureau-issued statements, newspapers and news websites, and other independent reports and data repositories.

The Informed Voter Project has released an analysis of 33 manifesto promises related to agriculture and 13 promises related to the ministry of environment, forests and climate change.  

Vivek Gilani, an Ashoka fellow and co-founder of the Informed Voter Project, said  89% of agriculture-related promises and 77% of environment-related manifesto promises were assessed as showing ‘medium’ or ‘worse-than-medium’ performance.

Two days before the first phase of the seven-phase polling for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, Gilani told Article 14 that conscientious citizens who exercise their franchise regularly are still faced with a nagging doubt that their vote may not be worth the effort because all elected leaders appear to show similar outcomes.

“You wish there was a way to sieve their performance from their promises,” Gilani said. “This is an effort to respond to the information black hole with an authentic compendium and analysis of promises versus performance.”

Registered as a trust in Mumbai, the Informed Voter Project is a transparency and accountability-related civil society organisation that has, since the 2009 election, published performance analyses on elected representatives in select states and cities, tracking progress against promises they made before elections. 

Falling Short On Promises To Farmers 

Another promise in the 2019 manifesto, to make an investment of Rs 25 lakh crore to improve the productivity of the farm sector, fell short by 84%, the Informed Voter Project report found.  

Totalling the ministry’s annual expenditure from 2019-20 to 2022-23 and the budgetary allocation for 2023-24, the report found an increase of Rs 3.98 lakh crore over the annual expenditure during the government’s previous term—against a promised investment of Rs 25 lakh crore.

Overall, the report found 43% of the evaluated promises in the farm sector showing  ‘very low’ performance. 

The analysis of barely average performance against promises made to farmers ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election is consistent with the experiences of farmers across India who have held protests every few months since 2020, including in 2022, the year when Indian farm incomes were to have doubled, according to another poll promise. (See Article 14’s coverage of the deepening farm distress here, here, here and here.) 

A NITI Aayog paper on the proposed doubling of farmers’ incomes showed that from 2011-12 to 2015-16, growth rate of value added in agriculture decelerated to 1.6% per annum, just before the demonetisation shock

“The BJP’s manifesto this time is deliberately silent on the acute agrarian crisis,” said Ashok Dhawale, president of the All India Kisan Sabha and one of the leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the federation of farm unions that coordinated the historic farmers’ agitation on the outskirts of Delhi in 2020-21. 

Dhawale said while other parties’ manifestos affirmed the need for a remunerative minimum support price, the NDA government had followed a pro-corporate policy. “The Modi guarantee will only facilitate vikas (progress) for corporates and cause widespread suicides of farmers and farm workers.”  

Suicides of “persons involved in farming operations” rose from 10,677 in 2020 to 10,881 in 2021 and 11,292 in 2022, according to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

No Progress On Many Farm Promises 

According to the report, the government made no progress on several manifesto points regarding farmers’ welfare. 

These include a promise to offer short-term new agricultural loans (Kisan Credit Card or KCC loans) up to Rs 1 lakh at a 0% interest rate for one to five years. 

While the announcement of such a scheme was anticipated before the union budget presentation in 2019, and though fact-checkers found fake newspaper articles claiming that such a scheme was set to be launched, the Kisan Credit Card scheme, launched in the late 1990s, has had interest subventions, very low interest rates, and a rise in outstanding loans extended by banks through the KCC, but no loans at a 0% interest rate.    

On a promised “mission for self-sufficiency in oil seeds and other agriproducts”, while the government launched a new mission on edible oils and oil-palm with a financial outlay of Rs 11,040 crore, India’s import of edible oils has actually risen in recent years, a recent sharp rise continuing a two-decades-long trend (here, here).

Another promise to reduce agricultural imports and “institute a predictable export and import policy with a built-in mechanism for encouraging exports and discouraging imports” was also marked as showing zero progress. The United States Department of Agriculture pegged India’s agricultural imports growing from US $ 12.5 billion in 2019 to US $ 37 billion in 2023, with a high of US $ 40 billion in 2022. India is the eighth largest global importer of agricultural and related products.

The report said there was no progress on the promise to establish a ‘warehousing grid’ along national highways to provide logistics linkages for agricultural produce. 

A 2021 statement by the Press Information Bureau on the logistics sector mentioned guidelines for modern warehousing standards, and the agriculture infrastructure fund (AIF) covers post-harvest infrastructure such as cold chain services and warehouses with a loan and interest subvention scheme. 

In August 2022, in response to a question in Lok Sabha, the ministry said 9,516 applications for warehousing facilities were sanctioned under the AIF, but the grid itself has not been mentioned. 

The BJP manifesto of 2019 said farmers would be enabled to store agri-produce near their villages and sell when rates are appropriately remunerative through a ‘village storage scheme’ for farm commodities alongside cheaper loans on the basis of storage receipts of agri-produce. 

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s February 2020 union budget speech said this village storage scheme would be run by self-help groups, enabling women in villages to “regain their status as Dhaanya Lakshmi” (goddess of grain).  

In August 2021, the ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution told Parliament that this scheme is under “active consideration”. The scheme was never eventually implemented.  

Organic Farming To ‘Save Mother Earth’ 

On the BJP’s manifesto promise to promote chemical-free organic farming on an additional 20 lakh hectares of hilly, tribal, and rainfed areas, the government continued earlier schemes, including the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana and Mission Organic Value Chain Development for North Eastern Region, and added new ones. 

A sub-scheme of the former, called Bharatiya Prakritik Krishi Paddhati or Indian natural farming method, was launched in 2019-20, under which 4.09 lakh hectares of land were sanctioned for natural farming in eight states. Nearly 4.1 million farmers were registered for organic farming, as certified by the National Programme for Organic Production.

Other schemes included those for organic fertiliser, fermented organic manure, waste-to-energy programmes on farmland, and PM-PRANAM, or the PM Programme for Restoration, Awareness Generation, Nourishment and Amelioration of Mother Earth, “to save the health of Mother Earth” by promoting sustainable and balanced use of fertilisers, promoting organic farming, etc.       

The IVP’s analysis found the total coverage of the Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana to be an estimated 12.8 lakh hectare instead of the promised 20 lakh hectare, and the number of  farmers receiving benefits from the natural farming promotion efforts, 0.41 crore, a small fraction of India’s 14.5 crore registered farmers. 

The report assessed the government's verifiable performance as 28% to 36% of the promised coverage, depending on the specific parameters of sustainable or natural farming techniques.  

Another manifesto promise was a dedicated e-commerce portal to enhance the availability of organic produce at “the doorsteps of consumers”. In 2021, the ministry of agriculture launched the ‘jaivik kheti’ or natural farming portal as a “one-stop solution” for facilitating organic farmers to sell their organic produce. 

According to the site, more than 600,000 farmers registered for the programme, but the site lists only two products, tomatoes and potatoes, sold by a single vendor. 

According to the Google app store, the Jaivik Kheti app recorded more than 100,000 downloads. “Peculiarly, the government of India’s own app store pegs the number of downloads since 20 August 2021 at zero,” said the report. 

The Real Reach Of The PM-Kisan Scheme

On a few schemes, the analysis found performance to be average. 

The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana or PM-KISAN, launched in December 2018, is a central scheme with 100% funding from the government of India. It gives farmers with land holdings up to 2 hectares an income support of Rs 6,000 per year, paid in three equal instalments. While the BJP manifesto promised to expand the coverage of the scheme to all farmers in the country, the coverage achieved is approximately 40% lower than promised.

Budgetary outlays and total number of farmers who received these payments through DBT in their bank accounts have differed, ranging from 3.02 crore in 2018-19 when the scheme was launched to a maximum of 10.78 crore farmers in 2021-22. In 2022-23, the number of beneficiaries fell marginally to 10.73 crore and to 9.21 crore farmers in 2023-24 (as of February 2024).

The average annual coverage was 8.78 crore farmers, or 61% of the estimated 14.5 crore registered farmers in India. “This translates to approximately 5.7 to to 6.7 crore unserved farmers,” the report said.

Public policy researcher Asha Jyothi, a volunteer with the Informed Voter Project, said on some of the big schemes for farm welfare, the enrolment or total numbers of beneficiaries appeared extensive at first glance, but a finer analysis raised questions.  

On the PM-KISAN, for example, the government has claimed it reached more than 11 crore farmers. “However, when we look at the budget allocated, there is a deficit that shows up if you calculate Rs 6,000 each for five years, and take into account the total disbursal of Rs 2.81 lakh crore,” she told Article 14

On studying year on year disbursals, which were made to between 8.8 crore and 10.78 crore farmers in the last five years, there was also no way to say whether those who received the instalments in the early years of implementation continued to do so, or if some may have missed receiving some instalments, or if some received less than the Rs 6,000 annual benefit. 

Pension Scheme Reached 6% Of Eligible Farmers

Another manifesto announcement, a pension or social security scheme for small and marginal farmers aged 60 years and above, led to the launch of the Pradhan Mantri  Kisan Maandhan Yojana or the PM-KMY in August 2019, a voluntary and contributory pension scheme with an entry age group of 18 years to 40 years, and Rs 3,000 monthly pension payable from the age of 60 onwards. 

Of the approximately 126 million small farmers, estimating the proportional share of farmers aged 18 years to 40 years (using World Health Organisation data on farmers’ lifespan) at 52.5 million, the enrollment of  2.3 million farmers as of February 2024 covers less than 6% of eligible farmers, the report said.  

The farmer-focused promises that recorded better performance included the one to create 10,000 new farmer producer companies or FPOs (7,597 new FPOs were registered by December 2023); and the promise to promote the use of artificial intelligence, data analytics and blockchain technology for more predictive and profitable agriculture. On the latter, the analysis found many efforts to promote the use of these technologies in agriculture, though they did not show substantive and tangible beneficial effects for agriculturists. 

Asset Growth For Elected Representatives 

Researchers of the Informed Voter Project also examined the year-on-year percentage growth of the financial assets owned by the candidates of major political parties contesting the 102 constituencies that will go to polls in Phase 1 of the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections.

This was analysed by examining assets declared in the affidavits filed for the 2024 elections and comparing those with affidavits filed during any Lok Sabha or state assembly election between 2009 and 2024. 

The average year-on-year growth in assets (not adjusted for inflation) for incumbents was 11% for Congress MPs, and 20% for BJP MPs. Only assets of candidates of the NDA and INDIA blocs were analysed, not those from parties not affiliated to either major alliance group. 

Gilani said voters should compare this growth with the growth that average Indians experience. “Don’t look at the mean wealth, which is an illusion, propped up by the rapacious growth of the top 1%,” he said, “but the average median income growth rate, below which 50% of us live.”

Notable examples included Indra Hang Subba of the BJP in Sikkim, whose assets grew from Rs 4.79 lakh in 2019 to Rs 1.49 crore in 2024, an annual growth of 608%; Gopinath K from the DMK in Krishnagiri (Tamil Nadu), whose assets grew from Rs 15.8 lakh as cited in a 2006 affidavit to Rs 12.35 crore in 2024, an annual growth rate of 423%; and S Venkatesan of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) of Madurai (Tamil Nadu) whose assets grew from Rs 18.12 lakh in 2019 to Rs 2.06 crore in 2024, an annual growth of 209%. 

For quick reference, the average median  per capita wealth or assets of Indians (on current exchange rates) grew at  0.7%  for the 2019-2022 period, according to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Data Book 2022

(Kavitha Iyer is a senior editor with Article 14 and the author of ‘Landscapes of Loss’, a book on India’s farm crisis.)  

Get exclusive access to new databases, expert analyses, weekly newsletters, book excerpts and new ideas on democracy, law and society in India. Subscribe to Article 14.