Tuesday, Aug 09, 2022

Let Them Eat Schemes

Promise them the world, but don’t ask how to get there

Let Them Eat Schemes Illustration by Saahil

If you are invited to write on the budget, it could be fun. More so if you are an economist and your finance ministry introduces a number of schemes, not all fully funded. We start with being dazzled by the promise that farmers’ income will double by 2022. Don’t ask how because we have abolished the Planning Com­mission and we will do away with Plan expenditure.  To be fair to the FM, in the funded part of the budget he has revived an old Plan scheme—the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Progra­mme (AIBP)—with a hefty allocation. For groundwater, too, there is a dedicated fund with NABARD. I love the AIBP, having been its grand daddy since I designed it as planning minister in the mid-1990s. But, in the beginning of this century we asked the question: why is this plan not working anymore? The Twelfth Plan said we don’t know and must find out. The FM would be well advised to find the answer!

The prime minister, of course, knows the importance of irrigation. After all, he became CM in the year Sardar Sarovar water entered Gujarat and we clocked a six per cent growth rate for a decade. The budget is wisely cautious on the direct distribution of fertilisers. The urea pricing committee I chaired said do it, but cautiously. Exp­eriment in areas where the coops and joint sector factories distribute since they will cover the last mile and then spread the good news.