NEW DELHI: The government today countered the Opposition charge that private insurers were benefitting under the new crop insurance scheme, saying it was the Congress-led UPA which had first allowed private firms in 2007.
Replying to a debate in the Rajya Sabha on the agrarian crisis, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said the government was alive to the problems of the farmers and was making efforts to resolve them.
The minister, whose more than hour-long reply was repeatedly disrupted by the Opposition members, said if the previous governments had taken adequate steps, the farmers' condition would not have worsened.
He listed the measures that the government had taken over the last three years in the agriculture sector and spoke at length about the various schemes.
However, even as he was speaking, the Opposition parties expressed dissatisfaction over his reply and staged a walkout.
Before leaving the House, Congress leader Anand Sharma said the minister, instead of speaking about the past, should spell out what the government was going to do to end the plight of farmers.
Continuing his speech, Singh said, "I want to assure farmers that we are addressing their problems. Along with state governments and the policies of the Prime Minister, we are addressing the challenges and also succeeding."
Responding to Opposition charge that private insurance companies were making a profit under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna (PMFBY), the minister asked, "who brought the private companies" in the scheme?
It was in 2007 that private insurers were permitted in insurance schemes by the then UPA government.
He said during the UPA government, only one public sector insurance company was involved as against five from the private sector.
However, in the new PMFBY, launched in 2015, the number of public insurers has increased to five.
Singh added that state governments have also been asked to set up their insurance companies, and Gujarat and Haryana have already expressed interest.
The minister also clarified that total insurance premium collected by companies could be more compared to the settlement of claims when crops are not damaged due to calamities.
Responding to the contention that the incidents of farmers' suicide have seen an increase, Singh said the number has come down to 11,458 in 2016 from 12,602 in the previous year. He was citing the data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).
The minister, however, said there should be no suicide and highlighted various measures taken by the government to improve their conditions.
He also criticised the previous government for not setting up an adequate number of laboratories to test soil quality and accordingly prescribe soil nutrients.
On the government's target of doubling farmers' income by 2022, the minister said while the Centre was taking steps towards it, the state governments too have been asked to set up committees at the district level.
The minister said farm credit target for banks has been increased to Rs 10 lakh crore in the current fiscal as against Rs 7 lakh crore in 2013-14.
E-mandis, he said are going to help farmers get better realisation of their produce.
Besides, the farmers are being provided short-term crop loan at subsidised rates and norms for release of funds during calamities too have been relaxed.
During the reply, there were lighter moments also as Deputy Chairman P J Kurien repeatedly asked the minister to conclude his reply.
After his reply was completed, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the agriculture minister did not even complete half of his statement.
Digvijay Singh of Congress, apparently taking a swipe at Singh for his lengthy reply, said it was a "mistake" on his part that he had sought a discussion on the farmers' issue.
He added that whatever the minister had stated in the House, he should tell the same to farmers who are agitating at Jantar Mantar.
The Congress member had initiated the debate on 'farmers' distress leading to rise in the incidents of their suicide in the country' yesterday. The issue was debated in Lok Sabha last week.