The farming community and rural people were expecting the finance minister to announce measures to support them. Unfortunately, the expectations remain unfulfilled. If we go through the recommendations in budget the only good thing is found in the speeches of hon. Prime Minister, which did not translate into reality.
The finance minister assured that the MSP henceforth will be one and half times the actual production cost. Though the government announced steps to keep its election promise of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, there is no provision for additional procurement or 100% procurement of produce. Similarly, the finance minister announced a slew of new schemes and measures. But at this juncture there is little or no clarity. For instance, the government has decided to raise the MSP of all unannounced kharif crops at least one and half times their production cost, after declaring the same for the majority of rabi crops. But the details are still awaited.
Secondly, finance minister seems to have forgotten that most farmers are carrying heavy debt burden and has not made any provision to help them overcome this hurdle. He said the volume of institutional credit for agriculture sector has been raised year-to-year from Rs.8.5 lakh crore in 2014-15 to Rs.10 lakh crore in 2017-18 and proposed to raise this further to Rs.11 lakh crore for 2018-19. But for the farmers overburdened with debts, this enhance credit provision is no help. The credit provision needs to be doubled, but before that the existing debt load on farmers needs to be removed completely.
Thirdly, for dryland farmers, very inadequate provision has been made in the budget to help improve water storage and create micro irrigation infrastructure. The need for more warehouses, better storage facility has been discussed at all forum by the prime minister but it is not at all reflected in budget.
The theme of “har khet ko pani” (water for every field) was highlighted in the budget but only Rs 2600 crore has been provided for implementation of the Pradhan Mantri Sinchai Yojna. Are the funds adequate to fulfill the promise of the PM? There is an urgent need to focus more on infrastructure for storage to avoid huge losses, but provisioning for this has clearly been forgotten by the finance minister.
The government has announced plans for setting up 42 mega food parks. This is a good move. But if the government were to instead promote and provide funds to establish small industrial clusters for agro processing it would be more beneficial for rural economy.
The finance minister has proposed setting up a Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (FAIDF) for fisheries sector and an Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund
(AHIDF) for financing infrastructure requirement of animal husbandry sector with a total corpus of Rs.10,000 crore for the two new funds. The provision seems to be inadequate to meet the needs of both the sectors. Moreover, at this juncture, milk producers are suffering more.
The government has proposed a new scheme “Operation Greens” on the lines of “Operation Flood” with an outlay of Rs 500 crore to address the challenge of price volatility of perishable commodities like tomato, onion and potato which hits both the farmers and consumers. But it is the farmer who is more vulnerable. For instance, on February 1, onion rates in Lasalgaon market in Maharashtra were down by Rs. 1300 per quintal in a day. How is the government planning to help the farmers, it is not clear.
Though a lot to schemes targeting youth, rural women and senior citizen were announced, it is clear the budget is targeting 2019 elections as there is no clear focus on promoting rural industries or safeguarding interests of farmers and rural youth.
(The author is a member of parliament and farmer leader from Maharashtra. Views are personal)