Budget 2018: Arun Jaitley's measures to alleviate farm distress leave Opposition, some agriculture experts unimpressed

Arun Jaitley's effort to address agrarian distress may have earned him party approval, but it has elicited cynical response from the Opposition and some farm sector experts.

Debobrat Ghose February 01, 2018 21:01:30 IST
Budget 2018: Arun Jaitley's measures to alleviate farm distress leave Opposition, some agriculture experts unimpressed

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's effort to address the growing agrarian distress in the country through the 2018 Budget may have earned him pats on the back from the party, but it has elicited cynical response from the opposition and some farm sector experts.

The latter see his announcement today as nothing more than tall talk. Presenting the Budget, Jaitley asserted that the income of farmers would double by 2022, besides promising to hike minimum support prices (MSP) by 1.5 times.

Calling his announcement as an implausible tale from The Arabian Nights, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS)—the farmers’ body of the CPM said the farm sector announcements in the Budget looked more of a fantasy rather than the ground reality.

“The announcements are more of a fantasy. Even today, the farmers have to wait with tractor-loads of their produce at mandis for four to five days to sell it. Both Food Corporation of India and state warehouses are not purchasing crop as the system of purchasing has been destroyed. The only positive part of the Budget is that due to the widespread framers’ agitations, the government for the first time has been compelled to take up farmers’ issues and make announcements,” said Badal Saroj, central committee member of CPM and joint secretary, AIKS.

“The Budget neither mentions about allocation, which will ensure payment of remunerative prices to farmers, nor does it talk about implementation mechanism. It’s a cruel joke on farmers,” he remarked.

Budget 2018 Arun Jaitleys measures to alleviate farm distress leave Opposition some agriculture experts unimpressed

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley presenting the Budget. PTI

Questioning the government’s intention to improve the condition of farmers, former Finance Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram has questioned, “Why is farm income not improving?”

Citing the Economic Survey tabled in Parliament on 29 January, Chidambaram said, “The Economic Survey states that the real agricultural GDP has remained constant for the last four years. The agricultural revenue remained constant over the last four years. This clearly indicates that there has been no improvement in the economic condition of farmers.”

“There’s no mention about how the government plans to carry forward its plans in the Budget,” added Chidambaram.

In an attempt to give a big push to agriculture, the government has announced a slew of measures for the farm sector – right from fixing MSP to setting up of an agricultural corpus of Rs 2000 crore.

Jaitley in his Budget speech said, “We have placed the emphasis on higher income for farmers. Farm and non-farm employment for farmers' remain the focus. Agriculture produce is on a record high. The government is working on farmers getting 50 percent more price than cost price. This will go forth to double farmer's income by 2022. We don't work in bits and pieces. We intend to promote MSP so that farmers get complete MSP. The govt (sic) will fix a structure in consultation with the NITI Aayog and state governments to ensure farmers get MSP even when market prices are lower. MSP for Kharif crop will be 1.5 times the cost of produce.”

Sompal Shastri, former Union minister for Agriculture in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-government and an agriculture expert has termed the announcements as “falsehoods”.

“The CACP’s calculation of the cost of production is also flawed. The MSP that the government has been offering is below the cost. As per the government’s announcement, if agricultural income is to be doubled in next four years, the growth trajectory of agriculture has to be assumed at an annual rate of minimum 20%, which anyway is not happening,” remarked Shastri, who was also the first chairperson of National Commission of Farmers.

The Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP) – earlier named as Agricultural Prices Commission—is a decentralized body of the government established to maintain the recommended MSPs of agricultural produce.

Yogendra Yadav-led Swaraj India’s farmers’ wing—Jai Kisan Andolan--organized a session ‘#Kisan Ka Budget’ on Thursday to analyse the budget from farmers’ perspective.

“In the last four years, the government has proved to be a failure in agriculture sector. We expected that in this last budget, it would provide a clear roadmap and address the issue related to providing remunerative prices to farmers on their produce. But this budget has cheated the farmers. The government has shown that they don’t care for the suffering of the farmers. It demonstrates a clear lack of political will. They think they can win elections without addressing real concerns of the farmers,” said Yadav.

Though the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the farmers’ body of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), has hailed the budget, it has its apprehensions.

“Prima facie, the announcements made for the farm sector are good. But ask farmers and they will tell you that the price they get is less than the cost of production. It’s due to the flawed MSP calculation. Now it needs to be seen how MSP, which would be 1.5 times the cost would be implemented,” said BKS general secretary, Badri Narayan Chowdhary.

“Implementation mechanisms and the role of the state governments are important, as agriculture is a state subject. It has been seen that many a times, the state fails to utilize its share of 40 percent deliverance, which makes the farmer suffer. A strong policy is needed to make states act,” he added.

The opponents see today’s budget announcements as an attempt by the Narendra Modi government to please farmers and address the increasing farmers’ distress across the country ahead of state assembly elections this year and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

In June 2017, Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh became the epicentre of farmers’ agitation and witnessed large-scale mob violence.

Among eight states going to polls this year, the farmers’ issue is likely to emerge in a big way at least in MP, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan.

During the recent Gujarat election, the farmers’ distress emerged in a big way and the opposition Congress reaped benefits from the anger of the farmers. The ruling BJP didn’t perform well in the rural areas of the state.

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