By Ajay Chaturvedi
We are moving aggressively towards an increasingly fragmented and de-globalized world with President Trump at the helm of the erstwhile superpower. As I heard Trump’s proposed visa policy that would undeniably hit the IT/ITeS sectors, I was hoping our government would preempt some of that unforeseen hit. It was heartening to hear the Hon. Finance Minister Shri Arun Jaitley announce an increase of 24% in rural agriculture and allied sectors to INR 1, 87,223 Cr. Agriculture, the only surefire way to sustainable growth, unless we do fundamental innovations.
Among the many firsts, moving the budget to February might have been an election gimmick, but coincided well with the Vikram Samvat season change and Vasant Panchami. If nothing, it is an auspicious day. Merging the railway budget with the main budget is probably the biggest breakaway from the colonial legacy since 1924. Proud of the government taking some of these bold steps, aligning with the present day needs and hoping these steps do lead to fruition of the intended results.
The highlights that caught my attention especially in the agriculture budget, was income security for farmers and push to increase production. Commitment of the government to double farmers incomes in the next five years is a HUGE positive. We are an agriculture economy, eventually. The target for agricultural credit for 2017-18 is set at 10 lakh per farmer and the special efforts to ensure adequate flow of credit to the underserved and remote areas. Eastern states and J&K. Implementation will be key. Additionally, if this can be addressed in J&K, it might help alleviate the employment challenges too. Sixty days interest waiver on cooperative credits should be a blessing for the farmers.
Fasal Bima Yojana increased from 30% of cropped area in 2016-17 to 40% in 17-18 and projected to 50% in the subsequent year might be the single driver to reduce the farmer suicides.
Given climate change and rapidly changing landscapes, Soil Health Cards have rightly gathered momentum. The government plans to setup mini labs in Krishi Vigyan Kendras. Plan to setup 100 minilabs by qualified local entrepreneurs, who would be provided credit -inked subsidies, certainly a step in the right direction.
With a dedicated micro-irrigation fund will be set up by NABARD to achieve the goal of ‘Per Drop More Crop’, intent to double the farmer’s income in the next five years doesn’t seem hollow.
National Agricultural Markets to be increased from 250 markets to 585 and assistance of upto INR 75lakhs for cleaning, greening and marketing facilities probably the single biggest step for ensuring better market linkages for farmers, in the times to come.
Geotagging all MNREGA assets and putting them in public domain has established greater transparency and confidence in people, of the intent of the government.
The single biggest assurance on commitment to infrastructure development might have been the pace of road construction that has gone up from 73Km/day in 2011-14 to 133Km per in 2016-17.
Even as the open-defecation-free villages rose from 40% in 2014 to 60% in 2017, as claimed by the Hon. Finance Minister, the budget increase in housing and electrification schemes will be drivers of growth in agriculture and commodities over the next couple of years. Nothing works better for people than a consumer market turning to a producer’s economy. No point in making projections and plans without resources. The commitment to train 500,000 people in masonry by 2022 might be a bellicose target for a potently aggressive economy.
Overall, it was a good budget, which starkly missed specific plans for children and education in rural areas. Implementation remains key.