Short shrift for agriculture | Business Standard Editorials

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The sector did not get anticipated attention in Budget

If the government was expected to placate the farmers agitating at the Delhi borders for over two months through a few agriculture-friendly announcements in the 2021-22 Budget, it has not come about. Barring the data showing progressive increase in grain procurement at minimum support prices, there isn’t much in the Budget for the farmers to cheer about. Agriculture and rural development do not find a noticeable place in the six pillars of the Budget outlined by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the beginning of her speech. This sector forms only part of the third component entitled “inclusive development for aspirational India”. Though, as a redeeming gesture, Prime Minister Narendra Modi later said that villages and farmers were at the heart of this Budget, the financial document does not walk this talk.

The indifference towards agriculture is reflected also in the budgetary allocation for agriculture and allied activities, which have been retained more or less at the last year’s level, raising them only by a symbolic 2 per cent. For the rural sector as a whole, the resource allotment has, in fact, been squeezed by about 10 per cent. Besides, though the mandis run by agricultural produce marketing committees (APMCs) have been allowed access to the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund for their expansion and modernisation, only Rs 900 crore has been set apart for this Rs 1 trillion Fund. Moreover, not many new schemes have been mooted, barring in the fisheries sector with an eye on the forthcoming assembly elections in the coastal states of Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.

Among the very few agriculture-related positive features of the Budget, the most noteworthy is the hike in the target for the flow of institutional credit to the farm sector — from Rs 15 trillion this year to Rs 16.5 trillion next year. The targeted beneficiaries would chiefly be agriculture’s allied and faster-growing sectors like animal husbandry and fisheries. The allocation for the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund is also proposed to be stepped up by Rs 10,000 crore. Similarly, the corpus of the micro-irrigation fund, created under the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, is planned to be doubled. Besides, the existing “Operation Green” scheme, meant to promote value-addition of mass-consumed and price-sensitive kitchen staples like tomatoes, onions, and potatoes, is proposed to be extended to 22 other perishable products to ensure their year-round availability at stable prices.

But most of these are extensions or expansions of the ongoing developmental programmes. New schemes mooted in the Budget for the broad agro-rural sector are confined primarily to fisheries and its related activities. These include developing a large number of inland and coastal fishing harbours and fish-landing centres, many of which would also serve as hubs of commercial fisheries. An innovative initiative in the fisheries-allied field is the proposed establishment of a “multipurpose seaweed park” in Tamil Nadu. This would help fishing communities to gainfully exploit this abundantly available marine resource, much of which remains unutilised at present. On the whole, the finance minister seems to have reposed faith in the capability and competence of Indian agriculture to run on its own steam as validated by its spectacular performance during the Coronavirus crisis. This may be the prompt for a status quo Budget for the deemed Atmanirbhar agriculture.

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