Laying the ground for the panchayat elections, which are expected to take place in two years’ time, the Budget presented by Finance Minister Amit Mitra Friday set aside a better part of its allocations for the rural sector.
In its largest allocation, Rs 1,728 crore has been allotted to the Agriculture department and Rs 286 crore to the agriculture marketing department. Rs 152 crore has been set aside for the food processing and horticulture department, Rs 495 crore for the animal resources development department. Rs 250 crore for the fisheries department, Rs 2,277 crore for the irrigation and waterways, and a whopping Rs 10,653 crore for the panchayat and rural development department. This takes the total budgetary allocation for the rural Bengal to Rs 15,841 crore – the maximum for the Trinamool Congress government since its first came to power in 2011.
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In his Budget speech, Mitra had said that in the agriculture and agri-allied sector, a seven-fold increase has been recorded from 2010-11 to 2015-16, with the earnings recording Rs 21,224.61 crore last year.
According to the state figures, in agriculture and allied activities, the state claims to have achieved record agricultural production of 174 lakh metric tonnes (MT) of produce in 2015-16. Procurement of food grains has increased and warehousing facilities enhanced from 62,000 MT in 2010-2011 to 5.62 lakh MT in 2015-16 – a nine-fold increase. In 2015, 30 lakh flood-affected farmers were provided assistance of Rs 1,025 crore in three months, the minister had said Friday.
More than 10,000 kms of rural roads and 10,663 kms of highways were upgraded and constructed. The state has claimed that 100 per cent rural electrification “is almost complete under Sabar Ghare Alo scheme”.
But agrarian activists want the state government to look at the other important issue – suicides of farmers.
CPM has claimed in the past that at least 200 farmers in the state have committed suicide in the past three years. Of these, 116 suicides took place in Bardhaman alone.
Activists allege that like the Left Front government before it, the TMC government too has refused to accept the state’s “agrarian crisis”. The worst affected, they say, have been the rice and potato farmers.
“Neither government made the markets easily accessible to farmers. The Left Front used to give subsidy to farmers for crop cutting, which was cancelled by the Mamata Banerjee government. The production cost of crops has increased with the increase in prices of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides, electricity. There is no water available for the crops either. We hope the outlay announced by the state government (in the Budget) should alleviate the situation to some extent. We are cautiously optimistic,” an activist who has been working for the Right to Food said.