January 14, 2016


[Crop failure protection comes after two years of drought led to a spate of farmer suicides in India’s rural heartland]

Agence-France Presse

A farmer spreads fertiliser in his wheat field on the outskirts of Ahmedabad.
Drought has led to a spate of suicides in India’s rural heartland.
Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters
India’s government has approved a $1.3bn insurance scheme for farmers to protect against crop failures, saying it was intended to put a halt to a spate of suicides.

Two successive years of drought have battered the country’s already struggling rural heartland, with farmer suicides in rural areas regularly hitting the headlines.

More than 300,000 farmers have killed themselves in India since 1995.

Under the new scheme, farmers will pay premiums of as little as 1.5% of the value of their crops, allowing them to reclaim their full value in case of natural damage, the government said.

“The scheme will be a protection shield against instances of farmer suicides because of crop failures or damage because of nature,” home minister Rajnath Singh said on Wednesday after the cabinet approved the scheme.

The Prime Minister Crop Insurance Scheme is also an attempt by Narendra Modi’s government to woo the country’s powerful farming community after being beaten in two recent state elections.

“This scheme not just retains the best features of past policies but also rectifies all previous shortcomings... This is a historic day,” Modi said in a tweet.

Previous crop insurance schemes have been criticised by the agricultural community as being too complex or for having caps that prevented them from recouping the full commercial value in the case of damage.

Take-up of existing schemes by farmers is as low as 23%, the agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said, adding that he hoped to increase coverage to 50%.

The heavily subsidised scheme will come into effect in April, a major crop-sowing season.

“It frees Indian farmers from the fear of crop failure and is a strong political message from the government,” Dr MJ Khan, Chairman of Indian Council of Food and Agriculture, told AFP.

Modi’s government has also faced large-scale farmer protests over a key bill aimed at making it easier for businesses to buy land.


Follower of controversial ‘guru in bling’, complained to police after comedian appeared in sketch broadcast in December

Agence France-Presse in Delhi

Indian police have arrested a popular comedian for offending religious sentiments after he mimicked a controversial spiritual guru on television.

Kiku Sharda, 40, was sent to judicial custody for 14 days by a court in the northern state of Haryana, a senior police officer said on Wednesday.

“A police team arrested the accused at a TV studio in Mumbai late last night following a complaint filed by one of the guru’s followers,” he said on the condition of anonymity.

Sharda, who imitated guru Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh in a TV appearance on December 27, has apologised for his act, saying it was only aimed at entertaining audiences.

“I was given a dress, a script to read and directed to act,” he told the Press Trust ofIndia news agency.

Singh, who heads the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, is known as the “guru in bling” because of his penchant for garish clothes and jewellery.

The 48-year-old guru is under police investigation for allegedly encouraging 400 followers to undergo castration at his ashram so they could get closer to God.

Singh has also featured in two action movies and many music videos.

Dera Sacha Sauda describes itself as a social welfare and spiritual organisation with millions of followers in India and abroad.

On its website, the group describes Singh as a saint as well as an author, inventor, scientist, philosopher, philanthropist, peace activist and “the ultimate humanitarian”.
Many celebrities came out in support of Sharda on Twitter on Wednesday, calling his arrest “shocking” and “absurd”.

“I don’t see our leaders getting arrested for behaving like comedians everyday,” tweeted fellow comedian Vir Das.