In the first set of pre-Budget consultations with finance minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday, agriculturists and trade unions asked for income security and monthly minimum wages and minimum pension in the upcoming Budget for 2018-19.
Agriculturists suggested that the Centre should declare an ‘Agriculture Debt Relief Package’ for the entire country with matching contributions from the state governments. They also suggested to double the number of farmers receiving loans up to Rs 2 lakh at an interest rate of 1 per cent only and link Aadhaar to such loan accounts to avoid duplication,a finance ministry statement said.
The finance minister said that in order to achieve the goal of doubling the farmer’s income by 2022, there is need for better storage and marketing facilities for the farmers’ produce so that they get better prices for their produce, the statement quote him as saying.
Consortium of Indian Farmers Association (CIFA) Secretary General B Dasaratha Rami Reddy said there is a need for Income Security Act for farmers, tenant farmers and farm labourers. “The median income of farmers in 2012 was about Rs 1,600 per month, which is meagre to sustain… Hence, the farming community of India demands Income Security Act for farmers as well as tenant and farm labours,” he said after the meeting.
The government should think of providing social security like pension to farmers, said Y Sivaji, an agriculture expert and a former member of parliament.
Experts also demanded removal of Essential Commodities Act and levying no Goods and Services Tax (GST) on all agricultural inputs and equipments.
ICRIER Chair Professor for Agriculture Ashok Gulati said that structural reforms in agriculture are more important than farm loans waiver. Gulati said that buffer stocking is required for those commodities whose prices are trading below their minimum support price so as to control food inflation.
“In the last three years agricultural growth has fallen below 3 per cent. Some commodity prices have gone below minimum selling price. We have discussed addressing the issue of commodity price volatility. We also discussed how to dovetail the tariff policy and minimum selling price,” he said.
Other suggestions included creation of a small group of 5-6 experts who can monitor the agriculture production data of different crops and global market conditions on a monthly basis or to do advance planning rather than the government reacting suddenly to an adverse situation, the release said. It was also suggested that on the lines of other subsidies, food and fertilizers subsidy should also be given through DBT mechanism to avoid pilferage.
In a separate pre-Budget consultative meeting with the Finance Minister later in the day, central trade unions pitched for tax exemption on income of up to Rs 5 lakh, minimum monthly wage of Rs 18,000 and Rs 3,000 minimum pension for workers.
Representatives of the trade unions, including Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and Hind Mazdoor Sabha, took up their 12-point charter of demands with Jaitley in the meeting that lasted for more than hour.
“We demanded that budget should provide for income tax exemption limit of Rs 5 lakh, Rs 18,000 minimum monthly wages and Rs 3,000 minimum monthly pension for retired workers,” Hind Mazdoor Sabha General Secretary Harbhajan Singh Sidhu told reporters after the meeting.
Currently, the income tax exemption limit for individual taxpayers is Rs 2.5 lakh, while the minimum EPF pension is Rs 1,000.
Asked about any assurance given by the minister, Sidhu said, “Finance Minister has not given us any assurance. But he listened to our demands as per our 12-point charter of demands.”
06Jaitley said the workers are entitled to minimum wages prescribed by law and asked all the concerned industries to strictly comply with the same without fail.
Sidhu further said the unions asked the minister to stop privatisation of public sector undertakings and disinvestment in state-run companies.
Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh Vice-President K Lakshma Reddy told reporters that the minister also discussed labour reforms and assured them that the draft codes on industrial relations and wages will be revised in view of objections raised by the trade unions.