Soil Health Card scheme at a glance after two years

The soil health card scheme which was launched by the government on 17 February 2015 with all big pops does not seem anywhere even close to the targets which were set initially after the end of initial two years. It was estimated by the government to distribute approximately 14 crore Soil Health Cards (SHCs) till the end of first cycle which is supposed to end by 2017. As very less time is remaining now in the completion of time frame provided by the government, let us have a look at some important aspects of the scheme:

What is Soil Health Card (SHC) scheme?

It is a Government of India’s scheme promoted by the Department of Agriculture & Co-operation under the Ministry of Agriculture. It will be implemented through the Department of Agriculture of all the State and Union Territory Governments.  A SHC is meant to give each farmer soil nutrient status of his holding and advice him on the dosage of fertilizers and also the needed soil amendments, that he should apply to maintain soil health in the long run.

What is a Soil Health Card and how does it aid farmers?

A Soil Health Card is used to assess the current status of soil health and, when used over time, to determine changes in soil health that are affected by land management. A Soil Health Card displays soil health indicators and associated descriptive terms. The indicators are typically based on farmers’ practical experience and knowledge of local natural resources. The card lists soil health indicators that can be assessed without the aid of technical or laboratory equipment.

How was the scheme implemented?

An amount of ₹568 crore (US$84 million) was allocated by the government for the scheme. In 2016 Union Budget of India, ₹100 crore (US$15 million) has been allocated to states for making soil health cards and set up labs. National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) will be implemented during 12th plan with the objectives to make agriculture more productive, sustainable and climate resilient to conserve natural resources; to adopt comprehensive soil health management practices; to optimize utilization of water resources; etc. “Soil Health Management (SHM) is one of the most important interventions under NMSA. SHM aims at promoting Integrated Nutrient Management (INM) through judicious use of chemical fertilizers including secondary and micro nutrients in conjunction with organic manures and bio-fertilizers for improving soil health and its productivity; strengthening of soil and fertilizer testing facilities to provide soil test based recommendations to farmers for improving soil fertility; ensuring quality control requirements of fertilizers, bio-fertilizers and organic fertilizers under Fertilizer Control Order, 1985; up gradation of skill and knowledge of soil testing laboratory staff, extension staff and farmers through training and demonstrations; promoting organic farming practices etc. Fertilizer Control Order, 1985; up-gradation of skill and knowledge of soil testing laboratory staff, extension staff and farmers through training and demonstrations; promoting organic farming practices etc.In the union budget of 2017, however very little heeding was paid and this scheme got subsided by the newly launched Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, and on the soil health card scheme, the finance minister just said that mini labs for soil testing will be set up in all 648 Krishi Vigyan Kendras (farm research institutes) across India. These will be run by rural entrepreneurs who will be assisted by the government.

Performance and data:

Now moving to the most important point, one should know what exactly is the condition and situation of this ill scheme now, has it been performing at par the desired and expected levels or just like many come and go attention seeking schemes, this scheme is going to be another failure of the center government.

The following bar graphs show the progress of the scheme so far in terms of no. of samples taken, tested and dispatched. Source: http://www.soilhealth.dac.gov.in/

As is evident from the above shown charts that the number of soil samples collected is astonishingly more than targeted but the real worry is about the number of samples tested, printed and dispatched. The following graph further illustrates the complete picture of exactly what is the situation statewise:

​One can easily figure out that in most of the states/UTs the number of samples tested is very less in comparison to the number of samples collected. It is more to worry about that the states which rely heavily on agriculture are worst performers. States like Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, West Bengal, Bihar, where more than 80% of India’s food grain is produced, show worst performance when considered about the printing and dispatching of soil health cards to farmers.Here are some figures relating to comparison of number of the Soil Health Cards for the above mentioned states which were needed to be printed against the actual number which were printed in the last 2 years:

STATETotal Target of Printing and distribution (2015-16 &16-17)No. of SHC distributed upto 14-2-2017percent progress
Uttar Pradesh263.6167.7625.67
Rajasthan127.6128.6922.48
Punjab46.205.9112.79
Haryana43.614.4110.10
West Bengal71.9116.4722.91
Bihar72.3626.1336.11
Madhya Pradesh127.9441.0532.08

All figures in lakhs, Sourcehttp://www.soilhealth.dac.gov.in/

As is evident from the above given figures that all of the above states who are major producers of crops are lagging behind when it comes to the number of SHCs prepared and distributed, one should be eager to know why this trend is there. What are the factors behind such a less number of SHCs printed and dispatched in major states. In fact, overall just 5.12 crore SHCs have been distributed against the targeted value of around 14crore with almost no time to spare now.

What are the reasons for this poor performance?

Many reasons can be there which can account for this poor performance of these major crop dependent states; notable ones are:

1.) All those states which are lagging behind in the printing and distribution of SHCs are doing so because the number of Soil Testing Laboratories (STL) is not enough in those states. Let’s have a look at the number of STLs in the states discussed about earlier. (Source: http://farmer.gov.in/stl.aspx?SCode=17&DCode=1713)

 UP:                102

Rajasthan:    29

MP:                 56

Bihar:             64

West Bengal: 15

Punjab:           79

Haryana:        60

These numbers can be compared with those showing good figures in respect to number of SHCs printed and dispatched like Tamilnadu, Uttarakhand, and Andhra Pradesh etc. One can easily find that lack of STLs is a major reason behind the delay in testing and hence distribution of SHCs.

2.) Due to many vacancies in the handful of STLs which are not filled, the work is sluggish there. Many vacancies like lab technician, testing associates haven’t been filled till now even when the project is near the deadline.

3.) States are also responsible in some cases for such poor performance, as states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal didn’t have coherence and coordination with the  policies of central government, they didn’t release ample fund for the project and hence poor facilities like lack of STLs and unfilled vacancies in labs.

4.) Lack of scrutiny and supervision is also a very important factor behind the poor functioning of STLs and lack of personnel in labs. State functionary should be made accountable to centre for all the activities and performance related data of STLs.

At last, this is another come and go policy of the government which is seeking its end very near in 2017 and still much work is pending in terms of the number of SHCs printed and dispatched. The way central government has shrugged off from its responsibilities of achieving the stated targets, it hasn’t allotted something substantial so that the figures achieved could be somewhere near those estimated. But, like other such schemes let us believe that it will also be dumped after some time. Who knows Fasal Bima Yojana is next as some other mission unveils!

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