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Union Budget 2018: A Step Forward

Únion Budget 2018: Budget addresses the crises in agriculture. The devil is in the allocations

Written by Ajay Vir Jakhar | Published: February 2, 2018 12:00 am
Arun Jaitley presents Union Budget 2018 at the Parliament Finance Minister Arun Jaitley before presenting Union Budget 2018 before the Parliament (Express Photo by Renuka Puri)

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”. In Anna Karenina, only if a person is satisfied on all counts will she be happy. The allocations in the budget cover every sector, with umpteen implications, and no person’s expectations can be fulfilled on all counts. While every expectation can’t be met, it must be acknowledged that Finance Minister (FM) Arun Jaitley has presented a budget which focuses on rural India and is a great leap forward for the policy-battered farm sector. According to Article 112 of the Constitution, the Union Budget is simply a statement of the estimated receipts and expenditures of the government for a particular year.

Rather than the budget being an annual jamboree for announcing policies, the prime minister should address the nation with his ideas for the coming year, based on which the FM should subsequently present the budget. The first step towards atonement and for penance is to acknowledge past failure. As the Economic Survey rightly states, real incomes of farmers have been stagnant. The next step is to take corrective measures and redeem the situation. An effort has been initiated in that direction in this budget.

Assurance of purchase of all crops for which MSP is declared is a positive step. If the government’s promise is of A2+50 per cent profit, then it is half-baked. It should have simultaneously announced acceptance of the Ramesh Chand Committee’s recommendations on the calculation of MSP, which it has not. The Niti Aayog is finally evolving into the credible policy think-tank we had been hoping for. It is also supposed to come out with a suitable mechanism to enable institutional credit access to lessee farmers.

The Agri-Market Infrastructure Fund, with a corpus of Rs 2,000 crore, is to be set up for developing and upgrading agricultural marketing infrastructure in the 22,000 Gramin Agricultural Markets and 585 Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs). This will enable farmers in remote locations who are devoid of any institutional mechanism to connect to markets. ‘‘Operation Green’’ on the lines of ‘‘Operation Flood’’ to tackle the volatility of tomato, onion and potato prices is a positive development. The long-standing demand of income tax exemption for farmer producer organisations has been fulfilled. A Rs 10,000 crore fund to finance the infrastructure requirements of fisheries, aquaculture and animal husbandry will generate rural employment and supplement farmer incomes.

The intent to mitigate the air pollution woes of Delhi-NCR by subsidising the machinery required for in-situ management of crop residue has now been addressed. Targeted programmes like those under the Prime Minister Krishi Sinchai Yojna for 96 irrigation-deprived districts, where less than 30 per cent of the land holdings get assured irrigation, is the way forward. The focus on horticulture clusters and converting cattle dung and solid waste in farms to compost, fertiliser, biogas and bio-CNG is also commendable.

Read | Budget 2018 explained: ‘Arun Jaitley’s budget has no creative incrementalism on show’

The flagship National Health Protection Scheme to cover over 50 crore poor and vulnerable beneficiaries providing coverage upto Rs 5 lakh per family per year for hospitalisation is outstanding. But the fund allocation for the programme is insignificant. I wonder if it will suffer the fate of many of last year’s budget announcements which have not materialised due to lack of allocations. In Davos, there was a general scepticism regarding the data presented to project the Indian growth story. A similar apprehension persists regarding the fund allocations in this budget.

Climate change worries have not been addressed as agriculture R&D has been ignored. Nor is there a mention of the balanced use of fertilisers. The magic-bullet demand for changing the Centre-state funding ratio from 60:40 to 90:10 for agriculture-related schemes has unfortunately been overlooked.

A constant red thread running uniformly through the budgets of the past 10 years, presented by three finance ministers of India, is that farmer suicides have not abated. In the last three years, over 36,000 farmers have committed suicide.

Power is the capacity to change the lives of people. The prime minister must direct his immense power to bring the sorry saga of farmer suicides to an end. Budget allocations serve as the perfect instrument to change the narrative of resentment to one of hope. He must quickly solve farmers’ crises or heed the warning, given in different circumstances, by Benjamin Franklin: “We must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately”.

The writer is chairman, Punjab State Farmers’ Commission. Views are personal

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  1. Ravichandran Vanchinathan
    Feb 3, 2018 at 8:07 pm
    This analysis truly reflects the views of millions of farmers like me.The proposed MSP of farm produce is our long-standing demand. DrMS.Swaminathan commission recommended this formula way back in 2007. Until now it has been gathering dust. Though belated, at least now it caught the attention of the govt. Yet there are a lot of intricate issues in operationalising it. As of now, MSP is fixed only for 23 crops.We grow a wide range of crops, most of which are not covered by MSP. Ins ute of Cost and Works Accountants may be entrusted the task of arriving at MSP for more number of crops. This has to be done on a war footing before the next Kharif Season.The com tion of Cost of Cultivation is a complex matter. Cost varies from place to place season to season. There should be a credible mechanism in arriving at the cost. We can't ignore risk factor in farming. It should be duly reflected in selling price. If the price falls below MSP Govt must intervene by procuring for buffer stock
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    1. Paramjeet Paul
      Feb 3, 2018 at 6:22 am
      President RN Kovind, on his visit to Gujarat University, Ahemdabad, Jan 16th, 2018 "Kalam Sir was ultimately and fortunately my predecessor was basically a scientist refer him as "space scientist" while he called Modi Ji as a "social scientist" While Modi Ji was an alumnus of Gujarat University??????????a few critics/ commentators countered President RN Kovind remarks "you're a puppet of BJP, disqualifying MLA' first in the history non-application of mind comparing Kalaam with Modi ........Modi' who destroyed the social India demon........Gaurakshas'........Dalit killer, Amit shah murdered justice Loya indian democracy is in great danger we Indian must do something
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        Feb 2, 2018 at 3:34 pm
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        1. S Nityananda
          Feb 2, 2018 at 9:05 am
          The author has tried to be as appreciative of the budget as possible. But even he at the end has to write: "I wonder if it will suffer the fate of many of last year’s budget announcements which have not materialised due to lack of allocations. In Davos, there was a general scepticism regarding the data presented to project the Indian growth story. A similar apprehension persists regarding the fund allocations in this budget." He confirms that the NDA merely makes announcements and creates Jumlas , while nothing is actually allocated to implement a program. Even in the much touted MOdi Care, the fund allocation is meagre and no detailed plan is presented.
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          1. Shyam Sunder
            Feb 2, 2018 at 8:10 am
            This is the first farm- ground breaking budget and this writer still demands for more and finds fault with it. The writer's view is blinkered and he sees BJP as enemy only since he hails from Punjab. He wants that govt should squeeze middle class and rich and make them unhappy to make farmers happy by fulfilling his crazy demands. This writer has gone berserk and should be chained. He is a loose cannon. IE has nurtured an army of fools like this writer. They are least concerned about country but see everything from the lens of their partisan Political loyalty. They are danger for the unity and stability of the country.
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            1. R
              Rahul
              Feb 2, 2018 at 11:45 am
              Stupid comment.
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