Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Tuesday held pre-Budget consultations with representatives of the agriculture sector, who pitched for an income security law for farmers and structural reforms in the sector. “The median income of farmers in 2012 was about Rs 1,600/month, which is meagre to sustain… Hence, the farming community of India demands an income security act for farmers as well as tenant and farm labourers,” Consortium of Indian Farmers Association (CIFA) secretary-general B Dasaratha Rami Reddy said after the meeting. Agricultural economist Ashok Gulati suggested that the government should take measures for buffer stocking of those commodities whose prices are trading below their minimum support price to tackle food inflation. It was suggested that there is need to start ‘Operation Veggies’ and focus should be given to TOP — tomato, onion and potato — as there is maximum volatility in their prices. “Some commodity prices have gone below minimum selling price. We have discussed addressing the issue of commodity price volatility. We also discussed how to dovetail the tariff policy and minimum selling price,” Gulati said. He also said that farm loan waiver for farmers was not the solution to the present problems in the sector and structural reforms were needed. The farm sector provides employment to about 47% of the total work force in India, though its contribution to the GDP is only 18%. Moving workers from farm to non-farm is the key to increasing income level and higher GDP growth, the NITI Aayog had said.
The farm sector representatives also demanded increasing credit growth for the sector and effective implementation of crop insurance and irrigation projects. They also sought removal of the Essential Commodities Act and bringing all farm inputs and equipment under the zero tax net under the goods and services tax (GST). The meeting with agriculturists would be followed with similar interactions with other stakeholders such as industry representatives and economists in the next few days to take inputs for Budget 2018-19, to be presented on February 1. Agriculture expert Y Sivaji said that the Centre should provide social security like pension to farmers. CIFA also raised the issue of cigarette smuggling into the country. “Due to high excise duty on domestic cigarettes there is largescale smuggling of cigarettes. This is leading to subdued demand for tobacco. As a result the income of these farmers are hugely impacted. We seek that the government control smuggling and take other measures, so that producers get good price,” Reddy said. Besides Jaitley, the meeting was attended by senior finance ministry officials. In his opening remark, Jaitley said that to achieve the goal of doubling the farmer’s income by 2022, there was a need for better storage and marketing facilities for the farmers’ produce so that they get better prices for their produce.