Govt to take Aadhaar help for new farmers’ database

The Union government will use Aadhaar-based data generated from key farm-sector programmes such as PM-KISAN and soil health cards to build a new farmers’ database, which will give unprecedented insights into the rural economy and aid precise targeting of subsidies, two officials with knowledge of the matter said.

The proposed database has been made possible by the mandatory use of a beneficiary’s Aadhaar — the 12-digit biometric identity — for all rural schemes, according to the first official. It will be a “unified and integrated IT-based” repository, containing multiple information about a farm household, from financial details to landholdings data, the official said.

Farm subsidies worth thousands of crores — including cheap insurance, fertilisers and credit-to-cash transfers — still suffer from leakages because very little information about individual farmers is centrally available at the federal level, the official said.

For instance, although the government knows India’s annual fertiliser demand, it has no way of knowing how much fertiliser an individual farmer may actually need, which may vary widely, depending on crops, soil conditions, and whether a farm falls in an irrigated or non-irrigated zone.

There is currently no limit on the number of subsidised fertilisers that each farmer can buy. “So, somebody who actually needs five bags of urea may be buying 10 bags and diverting the rest to open markets,” the official said. The government spends approximately ₹75,000 crore annually on fertiliser subsidy.

An Aadhaar-enabled database that maps actual farm sizes, cropping patterns and agro-climatic zones can create district-level estimates of per capita fertilizer need.The same goes for cheap credit and farm insurance.

A key scheme helping generate micro-data is the PM-KISAN, the government’s income transfer scheme under which every farmer household qualifies for a yearly cash hand out of ₹6,000. On October 9, the government extended the deadline to submit Aadhaar details for PM-KISAN benefits to November 30.

Of a total of ₹87,000 crore allocated under the scheme, more than ₹27,000 crore has been released in the first instalment to over 67.67 million beneficiaries. The second instalment covered 51.42 million beneficiaries, while the third instalment covered more than 17.42 million farmers, according to official data. “This level of data was not available earlier,” the official said.

The new database opens up possibilities of estimating how much credit, or farm loans, a farmer may need, based on his cost of cultivation. The government offers farm loans at a cheaper rate of interest.

A Reserve Bank of India report last month warned that farmers could be taking more farm loans than they actually need for cultivation, possibly to meet non-farm expenses, which could be pushing them into debt traps.

The use of Aadhaar is fast eliminating leakages, officials say. In 2017-18, Aadhaar was made mandatory for Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), the flagship farm insurance scheme. This eliminated cases wherein farmers would take more than one agricultural loan against the same plots of land so that they get two subsidised insurance policies. This process, called de-duplication, helped save wasteful spending, officials say.

A second official said that the government has plans to implement “cash transfers” to farmers for fertilizer use. According to MicroSave Consulting, which audited the fertilizer subsidy programme for the state-run think-tank Niti Aayog, such cash transfers are likely to face hurdles of “accurate targeting”. Its report said the government can address these issues with a new database that integrates data from the PM-KISAN scheme, the Digital India Land Record Modernization Program and the PMFBY.

“We have a longstanding problem of accurate farm-economy data. We mostly depend on periodic surveys. Realtime data will enable us to better understand the changes. For instances, land holdings are getting smaller and smaller,” said R Mani, a farm economist with the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

Farmers however say the insistence of Aadhaar for subsidized handouts, such as the income transfer under PM-KISAN, has created hurdles and missed payment. “Lots of farmers have not received the latest instalment of ₹2000 because of issues of linking Aadhaar with bank accounts,” said Amra Ram, leader of the All-India Kisan Sabha, Rajasthan.

The official quoted in the second instance said this was precisely why the deadline for providing Aadhaar details for PM-KISAN had been extended to November 30. In a 2018 judgement, the Supreme Court had upheld the use of Aadhaar of all beneficiaries in all government-subsidy programmes.

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