Sowing the seeds for agrarian prosperity

The Union budget is a resource allocation exercise. The priorities in the allocation were indicated in the address of President Pranab Mukherjee to parliament on June 9. While the President’s address provides a framework for political and legislative action, the budget is the instrument for converting commitments into concrete achievements. Therefore, provisions in this budget have to be viewed in the context of the announcements contained in the President’s address last month.

In the field of agriculture, the address talked of reform of the public distribution system as well as contingency plans to face the challenges arising from subnormal monsoon. It also spoke of investment in agriculture infrastructure and agrotechnology; high priority for water conservation and effective use through pradhan mantri krishi yojana; commitment to attract and retain the youth in farming and adoption of a national land use policy.

The other major input in the preparation of the budget comes from the economic survey. The survey rightly calls for checkmating the adverse consequences of unfavourable monsoon as well as for vigilance against rise in price of petroleum products as a result of the conflict in Iraq. It also recommends a review of subsidies and the setting up of a national common market for agricultural commodities. The national commission on farmers had recommended the development of an Indian single market for farm commodities so that price volatility in different parts of the country can be avoided. The budget captures many of the commitments made both in the President’s address and in the diagnosis presented in the economic survey. Finance minister Arun Jaitley rightly cautioned against expecting too much in one budget but he indicated that this budget throws light on the roadmap for economic recovery and accelerated growth in agriculture and industry that the present government intends to follow.

Among the highlights in the farm sector, some important provisions are the following: Agriculture credit availability will be Rs 8 lakh crore with provision to provide loans to farmers who make prompt repayment at 4 per cent interest rate. Provision has been made for developing agricultural warehouses in rural India at a cost of Rs 5,000 crore. Funds have also been provided for encouraging producer companies as well as a price stabilisation fund of Rs 500 crore.

As promised in the presidential address, the pradhan mantri krishi yojana will have a support of Rs 1,000 crore. About one lakh solar pumps and solar power for irrigation will be provided at a cost of Rs 400 crore. Drinking water policy will include the adoption of bioremediation techniques to provide safe water free of arsenic and fluorides. Organic farming will be promoted in the north-east region with an allocation of Rs 100 crore. Watershed development has been accorded priority with an allocation of Rs 2,142 crore. Taking into consideration the potential address impact of climate change on agriculture, a national adaptation fund will be established at Rs 100 crore. Efforts will also be made to provide uninterrupted power to rural areas under gram jyoti yojana costing Rs 5,000 crore. In the area of information dissemination, the proposal of kisan television as well as community radios is the answer to a long-felt need. To bridge the urban-rural digital divide, a national rural internet and technology mission will be undertaken at a cost of Rs 500 crore.

India being a land of the youth, skill empowerment of youth as well as mahila kisans will receive attention. The national rural livelihood mission will be extended to 100 more districts. I hope the new urea policy will give attention to improving the efficiency of the use of urea through modern techniques.

Reform of both FCI and PDS will be undertaken to make them more efficient and user friendly. A comprehensive plan will be developed to attack the serious problem of malnutrition within six months.

The food security mission will cover 100 more districts. For landless farmers, efforts will be made to provide sustainable livelihoods. Initially 5 lakh landless labour families will be helped through Nabard. The Mahatma Gandhi national rural employment guarantee programme will be redesigned to ensure better linkages with agriculture and the creation of permanent assets.

Agriculture education and research will be strengthened through establishing new agricultural universities or institutes of agriculture in Assam, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. Horticulture universities will be established in Telangana and Haryana. Wherever necessary, FDI will be encouraged particularly to fill gaps in infrastructure. Thus, nearly all the important areas of farming have been covered with renewed emphasis and additional investment. The finance minister also mentioned about reviving the special economic zones. In this connection, I would like to suggest that special agriculture zones that can help to conserve prime farm land for agriculture.

Overall, the budget places considerable emphasis on agricultural renewal and agrarian prosperity. Obviously, the allocations are small but a beginning has been made to look at the problems in farming in a more holistic manner. I hope this process will be continued and by the time, the 2015-16 budget is presented, we will see that many of the root causes of the prevailing agrarian distress are eliminated.

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