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Analysis

No LPG connection in 6 northeast states till May; 4.3 million in UP: RTI

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New Delhi, July 3 : In six out of eight northeastern states, the Modi government failed to provide even a single LPG connection under its flagship scheme Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY).

The Yojana is an initiative on whose success the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) rode to power in Uttar Pradesh, having provided over 4.3 million connections in the state to BPL families.

The information was received from Indian Oil Corporation Limited (IOCL) through an RTI application by IANS in May.

According to the RTI reply, till May 8, 2017, not a single family benefitted from the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) in states like Arunchal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim.

Just the two BJP-ruled states in northeast India — Assam and Manipur — saw five and 27 LPG connections, respectively.

In Assam, Baksa district received one connection, Darrang got one, Dhemaji district one and Dibrugarh got two.

In Manipur, Kakching district received highest number of connections with 15, followed by eight in Thoubal, two in Imphal West and one each in Jiribam and Churachandpur.

The RTI reply also says that till May 8, 2017, a total of 75 districts in Uttar Pradesh have released 4,337,706 connections under the PMUY.

The scheme was launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 1, 2016, in Ballia, Uttar Pradesh in the run up to the assembly elections in the state, which was held from February 11 to March 8 this year in seven phases.

The BJP swept through the assembly elections in Uttar Pardesh, bagging 325 seats out of 403 seats and dislodging the Samajwadi Party government, which along with the Congress could manage only 54 seats.

It is believed that women in UP were pleased with the central government’s initiative and voted for the BJP.

The RTI reply also said that till May 8, 2017, a total of 21.933 million connections had been released in the whole country under PMUY.

However, to a question as to how much the government had spent under the scheme in Uttar Pradesh and in the whole country, the reply came that the information was not available with IOCL.

Meanwhile, on the website of PMUY under the ministry of petroleum and natural gas, it is mentioned that till July 1, 704 districts had been covered and 24.4 million BPL LPG connections had been released.

The BJP came to power also in Assam last year (2016) and Manipur early this year, uprooting the Congress governments.

(Sidhartha Dutta can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Fear of poaching gives sleepless nights to Kashmir’s politicians

Forty-four MLAs is the minimum number to stake claim to power in the state. In the 87-member assembly, the PDP has 28, BJP 25, NC 15, Congress 12, PC 2 and CPI-M 1, while four MLAs are unattached.

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Jammju Politician

Srinagar, July 20 : Beware of predators and poachers, take care of your flock. This is the classic warning for shepherds while they graze their flock in the Himalayan meadows. In Kashmir’s political meadow of expedient opportunities, the same warning is now visiting mainstream politicians.

After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew from the ruling alliance in Jammu and Kashmir, the politics of make and break is back with a vengeance.

Dissident MLAs of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), including the influential Shia leader and former minister Imran Ansari and his uncle, Abid Ansari, who is also an MLA in the 87-member legislative assembly, were the first to hit the road against Mehbooba Mufti, the former Chief Minister and the PDP president.

Three more PDP MLAs — Abbas Wani, Abdul Majeed Paddar and Javaid Hussain Baig — found common cause with the Ansaris to rebel against the party leadership.

Encouraged by the trend set by rebel MLAs, two PDP legislators from the upper house of state’s bicameral legislature, Yasir Rishi and Saifuddin Bhat, also joined the dissident group.

Alarmed by the cracks in her party, Mehbooba Mufti warned the Centre against attempting a split.

“The breaking up of my party will produce more Sallahuddins and Yasin Maliks,” Mehbooba said on July 13, the day Kashmir remembers its martyrs who fought against the autocratic rule of the erstwhile Maharajas.

BJP leaders including Ram Madhav, the party’s national general secretary who played a pivotal role in forging an alliance with the PDP that brought the coalition to power in 2015, washed their hands off.

“This is an internal issue of the PDP and we have nothing to do with it. Our priority is to improve the situation in the Valley under governor’s rule,” Madhav said.

Former Chief Minister and regional National Conference (NC) Vice President Omar Abdullah came out strongly against encouraging dissidence in the state’s regional parties.

Omar has been pleading from day one after the imposition of the governor’s rule by N.N.Vohra that keeping the state assembly in suspended animation gives an opportunity for horse trading.

The NC Vice President wants dissolution of the state assembly and announcement of fresh elections to restore democracy in the state.

Omar’s worry has valid reasons. His father and party president, Dr.Farooq Abdullah, lost the Chief Minister’s post in 1984 when NC dissidents, with the support of the Congress Party, installed his brother-in-law, G.M. Shah, as the Chief Minister.

Sajad Lone of the Peoples Conference (PC), who was a minister in the Mehbooba Mufti led coalition, is believed to be the front-runner for the Chief Minister’s post if a viable third front supported by the BJP is able to take shape.

Forty-four MLAs is the minimum number to stake claim to power in the state. In the 87-member assembly, the PDP has 28, BJP 25, NC 15, Congress 12, PC 2 and CPI-M 1, while four MLAs are unattached.

Sajad Lone was given a ministerial berth in the erstwhile PDP-BJP ruling coalition out of the BJP quota.

J&K has a tough anti-defection law which makes changing parties very difficult for the rebels.

What irks the regional parties is the fact that seven BJP MLAs who were expelled by the party in the former state assembly were allowed by the then Speaker to sit separately in the assembly without losing their membership.

The top leadership of both the NC and the PDP are worried about such a situation arising again if horse trading succeeds in breaking the PDP to reach the magical figure of 44 with BJP support.

“That would be the darkest day for democracy in the state”, said a senior NC leader.

There are no indications at present that the NC faces a similar crisis as the PDP does, but as the saying goes — once bitten, twice shy.

Some senior BJP leaders in the state, including the former Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta, have started saying that the tradition of having a Muslim Chief Minister in the state has no constitutional basis.

“Anybody who becomes the leader of the majority in the assembly can be the Chief Minister. There is nothing in the constitution that debars a non-Muslim becoming J&K’s Chief Minister”, Gupta said.

Ironically, the growing voices in Jammu for a Hindu Chief Minister could prevent the PDP dissidents from fishing in the troubled waters.

“Why should the dissidents give up their claim to have one of them as the Chief Minister? After all, none of the dissidents has stuck his neck out to pave way for a Chief Minister who is not among them,” asked a senior PDP leader who owes unflinching loyalty to Mehbooba Mufti.

Politics being the art of the possible can make for strange bedfellows, but definitely not those who take risks for somebody else to get the top job in Kashmir.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected])

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Analysis

Actual sugarcane FRP hike is Rs 6, not 20: Agri activists

The government has approved a premium of Rs 2.75 per quintal for each 0.1 per cent increase in the recovery over and above 10 per cent.

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New Delhi, July 18 (IANS) The government’s decision on Wednesday to increase the Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) for sugarcane for 2018-19 (October-September) season by Rs 20 to Rs 275 for a quintal comes with a rider that the new rate will be applicable only when the recovery rate is 10 per cent.

The recovery rate — of sugar from sugarcane — was 9.5 per cent when the government had fixed the FRP of Rs 255 for a quintal in 2017-18.

If the recovery rate of 9.5 per cent is considered for 2018-19, the farmers will get only Rs 261.25, which is a hike of roughly Rs 6.25, on year-on-year basis.

According to Union Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, 295 mills of the total 550-odd mills in the country have reported recovery rate of over 10 per cent.

“Earlier, the recovery rate was 9.5 per cent. But it is increasing now. There are 295 mills which have reported over 10 per cent recovery rate, 82 have between 9.5 and 10 per cent, while there are only 127 mills that have below 10 per cent recovery rate. As the majority is of 10 per cent, we have gone with it (while fixing the FRP),” Paswan told reporters here.

The average national recovery rate is 10.51 per cent, while it is 10.20 per cent and 11.47 per cent in major sugar producing states of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, respectively, he said.

However, agriculture activists called the hike in the FRP “shameful”, saying the actual hike would be below 3 per cent.

“It’s like peanuts. It is not even 3 per cent since expenses on electricity, labour and fertlizer have gone up significantly. The hike should have been done rationally,” said V.M. Singh, president of Rashtriya Kisan Majdoor Party.

He said the remuneration at 10 per cent recovery rate in 2017-18 was Rs 268, which means the actual hike is only of Rs 7 this year.

There are about five crore sugarcane farmers in the country and about five lakh workers are directly employed in sugar mills.

The total remittance to sugarcane farmers by the millers would be over Rs 83,000 crore.

The government has approved a premium of Rs 2.75 per quintal for each 0.1 per cent increase in the recovery over and above 10 per cent.

According to the government, the production cost of sugarcane for 2018-19 is pegged at Rs 155 per quintal, so the FRP of Rs 275 per quintal would provide a return of 77.42 per cent.

The FRP is determined on the basis of recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).

Paswan said there will not be any reduction in case recovery rate goes below 9.5 per cent and farmers will get Rs 261.25 per quintal.

As per the Food Ministry’s figures, the cane arrears, which stood at Rs 14,538 crore at FRP (Rs 23,232 crore at state advisory price – SAP) on May 21, has come down to Rs 9,319 crore (Rs 17,824 at SAP) following the various steps taken by the government in May including the Rs 7,000-crore package.

“Our top priority is farmers. To ensure that millers can pay farmers their dues, we give them such facilities,” Paswan said.

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Analysis

‘Crop insurance scheme benefits companies more than farmers’

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New Delhi, July 18 : It is yet to be seen how much the Modi government’s ambitious crop insurance scheme has benefitted farmers, but one section that has definitely hit the jackpot is the insurance industry, which collectively earned around 85 per cent profit, excluding expenditure on administrative purposes and reinsurance, during the 2017-18 kharif season, government data shows.

According to the Agriculture Ministry’s data, all 17 insurance companies — five public and 12 private — empanelled under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) registered a margin of Rs 15,029 crore as they paid out claims of a mere Rs 2,767 crore against the Rs 17,796 crore collected as premium.

PMFBY is exempted from Service Tax (now a part of GST), as per its operational guidelines.

Similarly, these companies have earned over 96 per cent profit under another crop insurance scheme — Restructured Weather-Based Insurance Scheme (RWBCIS) — during kharif 2017-18 as they received Rs 1,694 crore as premium and paid out just Rs 69.93 crore as claim compensation, figures accessed by the IANS show.

During the last kharif (2016-17) season, the insurance companies had earned 44 per cent profit as they received Rs 15,735 crore while they incurred expenditure of Rs 8,862 crore in claims made by the farmers.

According to the Agriculture Insurance Company of India (AICI), the nodal agency for these schemes, the business has been “profitable” since they were launched in February 2016.

“A good monsoon has certainly helped increase food production, which we think has led to such profits,” said a senior AICI official, who wished not to be named.

Earlier, under previous insurance schemes, the AICI had paid as much as Rs 2.80 as compensation claim against the premium of Rs 1, causing it to incur significant losses, said the official.

The government and insurance companies cite a “good monsoon” and “higher production” for the low claims. But there were cases of extreme climatic conditions, drought like situations, and floods at many places, said Chandra Bhushan, deputy director of the non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

“You cannot call it a good year to back low pay-outs since issues such as extreme climate and floods have been reported at many places. There are issues with assessment, payment dispersal along with technology issues. If claims are so low like 15 per cent (of premium collected), the country’s agriculture has no problem. There is no need to have any such crop insurance scheme then,” he added.

Interestingly, these insurance companies are bound to safeguard their interests by taking reinsurance cover and the government is to provide protection to them in case premium to claims ratio exceeds 1:3.5 or the percentage of claims to “Sum Insured” exceeds 35 per cent, whichever is higher.

Farm activists find a “big lacuna” in the design of the PMFBY, saying it has been more beneficial to the insurer than farmers.

Kavitha Kuruganti of non-profit Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture (ASHA) said Crop Cutting Experiment (CCE), which is done to obtain accurate estimates of crop output, is conducted in a unscientific manner.

“The samples collected for CCE are not scientific. The consequences are that the farmers are not benefitted but the companies,” she said.

In addition, claims made by farmers for crop loss have found not to be settled by the insurance companies on time.

“Claims are not provided in time. Also, banks do not send data (to companies) in time. There are several lacunae with the implementation. But the big laucuna is with the design of the product,” Kuruganti said.

As many as 3,31,96,239 farmers bought crop insurance under PMFBY to insure 3,34,73,346 hectares of land during kharif 2017-18.

However, claims of only Rs 2,767 crore were paid against the reported claims of Rs 5,052 crore.

Interestingly, the government could not yet complete claims settlement for winter crops cultivated during rabi 2017-18 when the process “ideally” should get over in “a month” after the harvesting.

According to the ministry data, claims worth Rs 14 crore were made under PMFBY for rabi 2017-18 and the payout was Rs 12.1 crore till early June against the premium of Rs 5,128 crore collected by the insurers.

A top official told IANS that the ministry was “aware” of the “big profits” and delays in settling claims.

“Although companies are earning more profit now, there are chances that they may incur losses in future if significant crop losses are reported. Also, we have asked the companies and states to speed up the settlement process by adopting new technology,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

Under the scheme, farmers have to pay just 2 per cent of total premium in case of kharif, 1.5 per cent for rabi and 5 per cent for horticulture and remaining premium is shared equally by the Centre and the states.

However, there is no cap on the actuarial premium rates charged by the insurance companies, which Kuruganti said was “very high” for some crops.

(Saurabh Katkurwar can ne contacted at [email protected])

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