NEW DELHI: Farmers organisations and experts have come down hard on the government for a budget that has skirted the demands to address deep agrarian distress and instead offered a dole of Rs 6000 per year, that breaks down to Rs 500 a month, and Rs 15 a day. “This is not even enough for a cup of tea, just a meaningless gesture that is sprinkling more salt on the wounds,” said All India Kisan Sabha leader Ashok Dhawale.

Speaking to The Citizen after Union Finance Minister Piyush Goyal presented the Annual Interim Budget ---the last for this government in this Lok Sabha---Dhawale said as a sequel to earlier remarks by Prime Minister Narendra Modi referring to loan waivers as a “lollipop”, “what he has offered now is “much worse than even a lollipop. It is insulting to the farmers who have been agitating for loan waivers and remunerative prices in line with the Swaminathan Commission recommendations.”

Agrarian expert Devinder Sharma who has been advocating a fixed annual income for farmers was surprised at the figures allocated for the purpose. “How can they seriously think that a support of Rs 500 per month will help farmers out of the terrible agrarian crisis. And how will it help reduce the number of farmers suicides.”

The announcement is also discriminatory in nature. Sharma said that the measure is meant for small farmers with less than two hectares of land. And does not take into account the 40% tenant farmers. Dhawale said that there was no provision at all, or recognition of the plight of tenant farmers and agricultural workers who had been left out of the Budget altogether. The forest rights being demanded by the Adivasis and tribals has not even been acknowledged.

The Kisan leader has been at the forefront of a prolonged struggle by farmers, that led to long marches in Maharashtra, road blockades in Rajasthan, protests and demonstrations all across India, with lakhs of farmers marching to Delhi representing themselves and scores of farmers organisations spread across the country. A large number of women joined the protests that basically rested on the demands of loan waivers and one a half times hike in remunerative prices.As Dhawale said, “this is not demanding charity, this is demanding our rights as the farmers are in debt because they have been excluded from the system.”

“This absurd parody of a lollipop is not going to work,” Dhawale said. Both he and Sharma wondered why the government even bothered, as “this announcement is going to make no difference.” A few initial reactions from the fields recorded by a section of the media had the farmers scoffing at Rs 500 per month, asking what the government was trying to do. “How will this help us?” they asked angrily.

Dhawale said that it was clear that the farmers are of little interest to this government that has been indifferent and callous to deepening agrarian distress. Sharma said that clearly the constituency being addressed through the Budget was the middleclass that has been given a lot, with peanuts for the farmers. As he pointed out two state governments of Odisha and Telangana are giving a fixed income of Rs 10000 per year to the farmers, more than the paltry Rs 6000 now offered by the central government. He was happy, however, that the Budget has acknowledged the need to fix an income for the farmers as a principle of sorts.

Dhawale was categorical that the government has no space for the small farmers as the Budget has made clear. “This is the last budget before the Lok Sabha elections, an opportunity for the government to address the demands and send out a message, but it has not even bothered with that. All it has found to give out is Rs 15 a day,” he said. “It is clear that agrarian distress is not even an issue for this government,” the Kisan leader regretted.