The Centre’s third stimulus package, as announced by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday, consists of several welcome and path-breaking reform measures that can well modernise Indian agriculture, remove its cereals bias and boost value-addition. But what’s also presumed is quality power supply and road connectivity, which are, sadly, more likely to be missing, thanks to warped policy. The move to liberalise agricultural marketing with a central law would lead to better price realisations for farmers and give rise to a far more efficient national market for farm produce. Perhaps more important, the proposal to amend the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, and deregulate stock limits for cereals, pulses, onion and potato has the potential to reduce costly, inefficient public procurement.
The pronounced focus on revamping and overhauling agricultural infrastructure makes perfect sense, as also the move to shore up clusters for herbal, wellness products and medicinal plants pan-India. The provision of Rs 1 lakh crore to upgrade farm-gate infrastructure and those at aggregation points, complete with cold chains, is noteworthy indeed. It would ease many of the physical bottlenecks nationally, but what’s surely required are benchmarking and quality standards even as we upgrade and enhance farm infrastructure. The plan to improve logistics capacity for fisheries and double exports is also notable. Pisciculture, apiculture, dairying and animal husbandry have much potential for improving livelihoods. Extension services and incentives to boost scale economies would be needed.
The proposal to step-up the subsidy for storage and transport for all fruit and vegetables under Operations Green makes much sense. However, the scheme seems much too underfunded at Rs 500 crore. Further, although the intention to have a legal framework for quality assurance in farm produce is forward-looking, it remains to be seen how it affects the ground reality given incomplete markets and the lack of built spaces. The proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating. Implementation is key.