An Indian farmer packs onions for sale in market in a field
An Indian farmer packs onions for sale in market in a field some 30kms north of Chandigarh on May 8, 2016. / AFP / PRAKASH SINGHPRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images

The Narendra Modi government is reportedly hurrying to put together a farmer support programme that can help it win back rural voters as it enters an election year. Free crop insurance and credit schemes are the key elements of the proposed programme while government thinking is against a blanket farm loan waiver.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the centre wants the programme to be announced ahead of the budget, if possible, to counter the growing rhetoric of Congress president Rahul Gandhi with his farm loan waiver challenge.

The opposition Congress party that won three key Hindi heartland states in recent elections has added pressure on the BJP government at the centre by announcing massive farm loan waiver programmes.

The government is keen on announcing a farmer income support programme by tweaking some existing schemes to make them more beneficial to farmers and improve their acceptability among growers, according to the reports.

The Exchequer could take a hit of up to Rs 70,000 crore a year if the programmes are implemented forcing the finance ministry is looking at options to share the burden with states, officials said.

Free crop insurance and tweaking the credit schemes are also being considered as part of the measures, a report in the Economic Times said.

The central government is also exploring the option of incorporating income support schemes into the ongoing umbrella programme of PM-AASHA that is mainly targeting farmers, sources say.

Officials indicated hectic parleys among Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh, chief economic advisor, Krishnamurthy Subramanian, and senior bureaucrats.

Apparently, the Telangana model of "Rythu Bandhu" targeting the most marginal farmers is gaining more acceptability in the core group.

There are reports that Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao met Modi recently and gave him details of the Rythu Bandhu scheme. There is also further confirmation coming from the Odisha and BJP-ruled Jharkhand states announcing income-support schemes on the lines of Rythu Bandhu, according to reports.

The initial programme might target 90-110 million small and marginal land-owning farmers. It could start with a pilot programme to test the efficacy of a national rollout. Tenant farmers may be brought into the scheme at a later stage.

The package could be announced in the 2019-2020 Union Budget, to be presented on February 1, or even ahead of that after the Winter Session of Parliament concludes, officials think.

The flagship Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) charge a premium from farmers at the uniform rate of 2 per cent for Kharif crops, 1.5 per cent for Rabi crops, and 5 per cent for commercial and horticulture crops.

The Telangana government's agriculture investment support scheme 'Rythu Bandhu' launched on May 10 focuses on preventing farmers' debt trap Under the scheme, farmers get a grant of Rs 4,000 per acre as investment support to buy seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and meet the labour cost. An estimates 5.9 million farmers are covered by the initiative at a cost of around Rs 12,000 crore.