Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s Budget 2015-16 delivers a raw deal to the agriculture sector, seems to be the consensus view among bodies representing farmers, including those affiliated to the RSS, the BJP’s mother organization.
The RSS-affiliated farmers’ body – the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) - has termed the budget as “discouraging for farmers”.
"This budget may look encouraging for others, but there is nothing worth mentioning for the agriculture and irrigation sectors. We don’t think this budget was intended to give any push to the agriculture sector,” Prabhakar Kelkar, BKS general secretary told Firstpost.
His union had written to the finance ministry suggesting it to ensure a proper procurement policy, increase the minimum support price (MSP) and several other measures to give a boost to agriculture.
The BJP in its election manifesto 2014 had mentioned that steps would be taken to enhance profitability in agriculture by ensuring a minimum of 50 percent profit over the cost of production. Later, the Modi government in its affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court in response to a PIL took a different stand, contending that raising the MSP wouldn't be possible.
“Agriculture and irrigation together make up the largest sector, but from the budget it seems the government hasn't bothered to take care of this sector. The government has tried to complete the formality through an outlay, which is comparatively lower than it should have been," Kelkar said.
"Several factors like low MSP, absence of a proper procurement policy, no subsidy on farm equipment, etc have already been causing burden on farmers. While on one hand, the government claims to make agriculture a profitable venture, on the other there is no attempt to help farmers in getting a price on their produce, so that he earns a profit and recycles that amount in farming,” he said.
Prior to this, the BKS had strongly opposed the Centre’s ordinance to amend the Land Acquisition Act, stating that the move would hit Indian farmers.
Sompal Shastri, former Union minister for Agriculture in the Atal Behari Vajpayee-government and an agriculture expert, slammed the budget as “weak and absolutely anti-farmer”.
“There’s nothing remarkable or impactful in the budget, except some tinkering here and there. Despite the importance of agriculture in India’s economy, there is hardly any increase in allocation to the sector over the previous year’s budget. The share of agriculture to total outlay is miniscule, which is declining year after year,” Shastri, also former chairman of National Agriculture Commission, said.
“The allocation in irrigation is quite low – Rs 772 crore against previous year’s Rs 1,797 crore, out of which 40 percent would go for flood management. If government’s attitude towards the agriculture sector remains the same, it would take a thousand years for agriculture to grow into a profitable venture,” the former Planning Commission member added.
The growth rate of agriculture in India has been constantly declining over the last few years. In the Budget 2013-14, agriculture allocation was Rs 17,788 crore. While in the last Budget 2014-15, out of a total outlay of Rs 16.81 lakh crore, the share of agriculture was Rs 11,531 crore; in the present 2015-16 Budget estimate, it stands at Rs 11,657 crore out of Rs 17.77 lakh crore outlay.
“The FM has perfected the art of over-estimating revenue and then in November, he would announce that the revenue target could not be met. So, he will be forced to cut expenditure, and its adverse impact would be on the social sector. Debating the numbers in the Parliament is meaningless, as the FM would do what he intends to. Moreover, the Economic Survey has given indication of doing away with the state APMCs (Agricultural Produce Market Committee),” said noted economist Jayati Ghosh.
“Removal of state APMCs will facilitate unregulated access for private players to the agriculture market. This will help big cartels to operate, which will adversely affect farmers,” Shankar Kushwaha, a farmer from Raisen in Madhya Pradesh, said.
A Left-affiliated farmers’ union, said the budget was “pro-corporate, which would help in the BJP government’s attempt to satiate the demands of the corporate lobby and land mafia”.
"Despite the FM saying that agricultural incomes are under stress, no confidence-building measures to help farmers overcome their distress have been included in the Budget. The allocation for agriculture and allied activities has witnessed a meagre increase, not worth mentioning. On the other hand, corporate tax has been reduced from 30 percent to 25 percent and nearly Rs 6 lakh crore worth of sops have been given to the corporate sector,” Vijoo Krishnan, joint secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, said.
The experts feel that there is nothing new in the proposed scheme to provide ‘Soil Health Cards’ to all farmers, since such cards are already being issued in most states. Instead, had the budget announced a national soil amelioration and replenishment programme providing free ameliorants like gypsum, dolomite, lime, etc to farmers based on assessment of soil conditions, and also encouraged for bio-fertilizers, it would have been a welcome move.
The budget has concentrated on providing more agricultural credit, with a target of Rs 8.5 lakh core.
“The more important fact here is that the small and marginal farmers, tenants and such groups have very limited access to such credit, and rich farmers, landlords and agribusinesses corner much of this credit. No serious efforts to set up a meaningful price stabilisation fund have been made to protect farmers from price crash and volatile world market prices that lead to farmers’ suicide,” Krishnan said.
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Updated Date: Mar 01, 2015 20:57:28 IST