While delivering the Union Budget 2019 speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had kudos to offer to farmers for making India pulse sufficient and an appeal to do the same in the case of edible oil seeds production but nothing concrete to offer to distressed farmers apart from an advice to go “back to basics” or organic farming after years of the government pushing fertilizer and pesticides driven agriculture practice.
With the proposal of “zero budget farming”, which is already being practiced in some states of the country, Sitharaman assured help to double the farming income in days to come. The proposal is a takeoff from the Economic Survey advisory.
Government is also relying on plans to set up 10,000 new Farmer Producer Organisations, to ensure economies of scale for farmers. Whether FPOs are the answer to farmers woes, including lack of proper marketing network, is still to be established.
The budget present Friday also had a proposal for a robust fisheries management framework through Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) to address critical gaps in the value chain including infrastructure, modernisation, traceability, production, productivity, post-harvest management, and quality control.
The main thrust of the budget was however to create alternative avenues for income generation in rural areas, including technology intervention and push to promote entrepreneurship.
Sitharaman proposed a Scheme of Fund for Upgradation and Regeneration of Traditional Industries (SFURTI) to set up more Common Facility Centres (CFCs) to facilitate cluster based development to make the traditional industries more productive, profitable and capable of generating sustained employment opportunities. The focused sectors are bamboo, honey and khadi clusters.
The SFURTI envisions setting up of 100 new clusters during 2019-20 which should enable 50,000 artisans to join the economic value chain. Further, to improve the technology of such industries, the Scheme for Promotion of Innovation, Rural Industry and Entrepreneurship (ASPIRE) has been consolidated for setting up of Livelihood Business Incubators (LBIs) and Technology Business Incubators (TBIs). The scheme contemplates to set up 80 Livelihood Business Incubators (LBIs) and 20 Technology Business Incubators (TBIs) in 2019-20 to develop 75,000 skilled entrepreneurs in agro-rural industries. However, agriculture economists and trade unions are not too enamoured of the government proposal.
“The budget, full of rhetoric and slogans, means another round of setbacks to working people and farmers, is devoid of any commitment and budget allocation to free them of indebtedness,” says All India Trade Union Congress in a statement. “Rather commercialisation of land in the corridors of railways-metro etc., would endanger of the farmers’ land without any incentives or rehabilitation package as the government wants to change the land acquisition Act itself to free itself from any responsibility to that effect. There is not a word about irrigation which is a dire need of our agriculture.”
Former union minister and agriculture expert Y.K. Alagh points out that the first budget of Finance Minister Sitharaman fails to address rural distress due to rainfall failure, particularly in the Deccan Plateau. It offers no roadmap on how the government plans to address the irrigation and drinking water problems in the rural areas.
“The budget offers little detail on short-term solutions but offers too much focus on the long term solutions which the Niti Aayog should be doing,” says Alagh.
Agriculture expert Prof Abhijit Sen is disappointed that while the agriculture allocation has been increased substantially, the entire focus seems to be on PM-Kisan.
“We seem to be only looking at doles through the PM-Kisan but not any income generation scheme or any way to address issues farmers are grappling with,” he says.
Against the Budget 2018-19 (revised) estimates of Rs 86,602 crore for agriculture and allied activities, Sitharaman's budget has proposed investment of Rs 1,51,518 crore in this sector, an increase of 75 per cent over interim budget.