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Beyond Mandsaur: Manipulating Farm Data to Paint a Rosy Picture

Modi’s tall claims on agricultural output, insurance schemes, and irrigation don’t hold ground against a fact-check.

6 min read
Beyond Mandsaur: Manipulating Farm Data to Paint a Rosy Picture
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It’s ironic that the very day the government extolled its better-than-ever agricultural achievements with a flurry of advertisements, farmers in Madhya Pradesh blocked highways, as they protested the low returns they get.

How to reconcile these two assertions? Let’s take them one by one.

Also Read: Mandsaur Live: After Hardik, Jyotiraditya Scindia Arrested in MP


Claims on Agricultural Output

The Modi government has left everyone behind when it comes to claims about breaking records (see for instance Modi’s autopilot achievements).

Its claims on agriculture are no different. Here they are:

1) Food grain production in 2016-17 broke all records and is estimated at 273.38 million tonnes – 8.67 percent more than the year 2015-16.

2) During the year 2016-17, total production of pulses is estimated at a record level of 22.4 million tonnes – 37 percent more than the previous year 2015-16.

3) During 2014-17, the production of fish was 327.75 lakh tonnes – an increase from 272.86 lakh tonnes during the year 2011-14 of 20.1 percent.

4) Egg production in the country has increased from around 210.93 billion in 2011-14 to 248.72 billion in 2014-17 registering growth of approximately 18 percent.

5) Milk production has increased from 398 million tonnes in year 2011-14 to 465.5 million tonnes in 2014-17 – an increase of 16.9 percent during this period.

This one is simple. Of course, it’s a good thing that food grains, pulses, fish, eggs and milk are being produced at record levels, but there’s nothing unique about it. Even if agriculture is growing at a slow pace (and a 2.4 percent annual growth rate over the past five years is slow), sheer momentum will keep breaking records, as the following table shows:

(Infographic: Rhythum Seth/ The Quint)

As for the claims of a rise in fish, egg and milk production in 2014-17 (chosen presumably to distinguish the Modi government from the UPA), you will get similar results when you compare any recent rolling three-year period (e.g. 2007-10 and 2010-13) – fish production being the exception, figures follow the trend: 14-16 percent to 20 percent in 2014-17. In short, these growth rates are consistent with historical trends.


Fact-Check on Soil Health Cards

2.83 crore soil samples were collected [and] 7.45 crore soil health cards were distributed till 23 May 2017.
Government advertisement dated 7 June 2017

Soil health cards allow farmers to select appropriate nutrients and fertilisers for various crops to help maximise productivity.

In the last three years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not missed an opportunity to describe soil health cards as his own pioneering effort. The reality is that these have been used widely since 2003, and in its final three years the UPA issued 2.8 crore soil health cards to farmers.

That said, 7.45 crore cards sounds like a huge improvement in the pace of issuing cards. But there is a sleight of hand involved.

Farms were earlier individually tested, but soil samples are now being taken from 10-hectare (in rain-fed areas) or 2.5-hectare (in irrigated areas) zones, effectively clubbing several farms together. This has speeded up the process of issuing soil health cards, but has made the results potentially less relevant to individual farmers.

So under the UPA, 2.8 crore soil samples would have generated 2.8 crore health cards. Under the Modi government, 2.83 samples have generated 7.45 health cards. One could argue that doing so generates better returns, but this is controversial. But it does have the (undoubtedly unintended) benefit of making the Modi government appear 2-3 times more productive than its predecessor.

Also Read: Mandsaur Violence: Loan Waiver Will Only Increase Long Term Pain


Data Manipulation on Crop Insurance

Under this scheme, there has been an increase of 56.52 percent in covering farmers during the Kharif season of 2014-17 in comparison to year 2011-14, out of which there has been a remarkable increase of 238.96 percent for non-loanee farmers. Similarly, there has been an increase of 34.73 percent in covering farmers during the Rabi season of 2014-17 out of which there has been an increase of 128.50 percent for non-loanee farmers.
Government Advertisement dated 7 June 2017

Although Modi has in the past sought to pretend that he more or less invented crop insurance in India (analysed here), there is no doubt that effective implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY), a well-funded scheme, which is an amalgamation of existing crop insurance schemes, could help cushion the severe price and income volatility driving farmers’ distress.

The problem is that the programme is a success only among those farmers who take farm loans and are compelled by banks to sign up for crop insurance as a precondition. “Non-loanee” farmers are still unwilling to pony up for crop insurance, even at the subsidised rates offered by PMFBY.

An investigation by the Down to Earth (DTE) magazine found that the government had tried to disguise this fact by manipulating data from Kerala, Maharashtra and Telangana to suppress the number of non-loanee farmers in 2015 kharif season. The DTE report showed that a substantial number of farmers from Maharashtra from the non-loanee category were showed as loanee farmers, resulting in increase in number of farmers benefiting from the insurance scheme in kharif 2016.

(Infographic: Rhythum Seth/ The Quint)
It turns out that the number of non-loanee farmers who signed up for the PMFBY was down 0.7 percent, not up by 560 percent as the government claimed. The 19 percent overall growth in farmers signing up for the scheme under PMFBY is respectable (if involuntary), but the claims about its voluntary adoption by non-loanee farmers are highly suspect.

It also turns out that the loan settlement rate for farmers under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) is rather low: in 2016-17, insurance companies paid only 17 percent of the Rs 4,271 crore of farmers’ kharif 2016 claims, according to Down to Earth. While it’s difficult to make a firm judgement without historical data, such a low rate no doubt deters farmers from voluntarily signing up for the insurance scheme.


Success of Irrigation Schemes

The mission mode of Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana (PMKSY) targets to complete 99 big and medium irrigation projects at a cost of Rs 80,000 crore by December 2019. This will result in irrigation of about 76.03 lakh hectare area.
Government Advertisement dated 7 June 2017

The 76 lakh hectare (ha) target over four years, or 1.9 lakh ha/year, is a tad above historical ranges (see chart below), although a strong start in 2015-16 could help PMKSY overshoot its targets.

(Infographic: Rhythum Seth/The Quint)

As with previous governments, this component of PMKSY targets “irrigation potential created” by large and medium irrigation projects.

However, a 2010 Comptroller and Auditor General analysis (cited in this IndiaSpend report) found that irrigation efficiency (the land irrigated as a percentage of capacity created) fell from 84 percent in 1985-1990 to 29 percent in 2007-2011. This will be an important challenge for the PMKSY even if it hits its targets on schedule, and will require better irrigation governance in the form of adequate dam and canal maintenance, desilting and the building of supporting irrigation works.

That said, the previous government’s record on irrigation was still good by historical standards (see chart below). The Modi government has started well, but will have to go beyond this baseline (with existing data lags, unfortunately we won’t find out till 2022).

(Infographic: Rhythum Seth/ The Quint)

Whitewashing the Truth

It’s easy to poke holes in the Ministry of Agriculture’s laundry lists of “achievements”, but that’s not the point. The sad reality is that half of all Indians are dependent directly or indirectly on agriculture, which accounts for only 15 percent of annual gross value added.

Furthermore, farmers have little protection against the extreme volatility in the prices of agricultural commodities (other than rice and wheat), and the poor returns from agriculture do not adequately compensate for the risks.

While these are structural realities that cannot be pinned exclusively on the Modi government, NDA-2 is responsible for demonetisation and agricultural price deflation that have exacerbated farmer woes (as corroborated by Harish Damodaran). And no amount of whitewashing can hide this reality.


(The writer is a political analyst and can be reached @dubeyamitabh. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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