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With farmers set to intensify their agitation across the country, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has made a smart move that will not only earn him the goodwill of the farming community at large but also silence critics who have accused the Biju Janata Dal of tacitly supporting the BJP by not taking active part in the nationwide shutdown (Bharat Bandh) that farmers organizations and trade unions called in protest against the Centre’s new farm laws.

His government decided on December 9 to move the Centre, seeking implementation of MS Swaminathan Committee recommendations with regard to the minimum support price (MSP) of crops. Dr. Swaminathan, one of the most distinguished agricultural scientists of the country who chaired the National Commission on Farmers, had recommended that “MSP should be at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production”.

The Patnaik government has been in favour of implementation of Dr. Swaminathan’s MSP formula right from the beginning. The state cabinet’s resolution to draw the Centre’s attention to the issue was, in a way, reiteration of an old demand that is in focus again thanks to the nationwide agitation of farmers. As it is, the Chief Minister has consistently maintained that MSP is an important tool of income generation for farmers and hence must be fixed in a holistic manner so as to make farming profitable. It should also safeguard farmers against the inherent risks of the profession.

The Odisha government’s concern for farmers is well known. In the past 20 years of Patnaik’s rule, the government has initiated a number of pro-farmer measures, including expansion of large as well as medium and small-scale irrigation facilities. Energization of lift irrigation points across the state has been one of the major achievements of the BJD government.

But none of these measures can match the popularity of Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) scheme, which was launched two years ago. Aimed at reducing poverty and enhancing the level of agricultural prosperity, this scheme has been a big hit among farmers, mainly because of the cash deposits made in their bank accounts by the government. The other important feature of KALIA, a scheme named after the popular sobriquet of Lord Jagannath, is that it encompasses within its ambit not only farmers of different categories but also landless labourers.

At the heart of the scheme lies the Chief Minister’s desire to empower the farmers with options that can enable the growth of agriculture in Odisha. For example, enhanced accessibility to suitable financial services promises to ensure agricultural productivity and increase the income of farmers, particularly the small and marginal land holders.

The scheme also has provisions for extending crop loans to vulnerable landless labourers, cultivators and share croppers at zero percent interest. KALIA makes a direct attack on poverty by raising the standard of living of farmers at all levels and investing even landless labourers with dignity.

While the five-time Chief Minister has always been on the side of farmers, his government’s latest move on MSP has further strengthened his pro-farmer credentials.

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