It's the first time a state has come forward to bear the entire cost of farm investment on inputs like seeds, fertilizer and pesticides. "Besides sugarcane," says State Agricultural University Vice-Chancellor V. Praveen Rao, "the actual cost per acre for most crops is between Rs 2,600 and Rs 3,200. This means the farmer will have cash left over after all expenses if he spends prudently."
Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao is close to completing his grand scheme of doling out an unprecedented, no-questions-asked Rs 4,000 per acre to each of Telangana's 5,733,000 farmers. Rythu Bandhu scheme (RBS), the agricultural investment support plan rolled out on May 10 at Chelpur in Huzurabad, covers 10,067 villages across 30 districts excluding urban Hyderabad. Farmer-owners received personalised cheques and new Aadhaar-linked pattadar (ownership) passbooks.
The rollout was preceded by months of preparation. It included updating of land records for some 24 million of the 29 million acres of farmland in the state. The 100-day 'land purification' exercise done last year verified some 14 million acres as cultivable. Meant exclusively for landowners, tenant farmers get nothing. At the May 10 inauguration, Rao announced that with effect from June 2, the state Foundation Day, Telangana's farmers would get added benefit of a Rs 5 lakh life insurance cover with the state government paying the whole premium through LIC.
The CM also proposes to link the employment guarantee scheme (MNREGA) with agriculture. "Linking MNREGA will ensure that farm labour will be paid half their wages by the government and the rest by land owners," says KCR. He further announced that Rs 800 crore due from farmers as water cess was also being waived. KCR says besides these incentives, the irrigation projects for rational use of water (slated for completion later this year), will enable farmers to cultivate three crops a year. He said he was pressuring the Centre for a 25 per cent hike in minimum support price (MSP) for foodgrains, as well as price support for all crops including millets.
The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is evidently looking to draw big electoral dividends from RBS, which will cost the state an estimated Rs 12,000 crore a year. KCR is already pitching his successes as an alternative to the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance. "Only a coalition of strong regional parties will ensure balanced growth of all states," he says.