Budget 2018: The government claims that this is the Budget for a “new India”.However, this vision excludes rural workers, small & marginal farmers and the unorganised sector. Many claims are being made about the farm sector. The fact is even the “optics” only partially meet these. The substance of this Budget shows how little it caters to farmers, and the economically & politically marginalised.
The demand of farmers agitating across the country—accepted by the BJP—for implementation of the MS Swaminathan report has been sidestepped in its specifics and substance. While announcing 50% of input costs to be added in the calculation of the MSP, one must look at the manner in which this government plans to calculate input costs. As the Swaminathan committee recommends, comprehensive input costs (C2) including minimum wages for family labour and costs of lease of land, should be the basis for adding 50% to calculate the MSP. The government however is using a formula based on partial input costs (A2) to calculate the base, making the entire calculation deficient and infructuous, and undermining the concept itself. Therefore, the Budget comprehensively fails to deliver on the promise of doubling farmers’ income.
Related to this is the question of adequate resources for protecting the MSP through state procurement in mandis. Without this, even the limited announcement of MSP will not be followed by profit-makers in the market and the entire effort of providing farmers adequate income will fail.
The social sector as a whole continues to be neglected. This year’s allocation of `55,000 crore to MGNREGA stands at the same amount as last year’s revised estimate. Inflation, pending liabilities and sub-minimum wages aren’t being addressed and therefore, the mandate of the MGNREGA will continue to be violated.
The grandest announcement in the social sector is the massive expansion in the coverage of hospitalisation insurance for the poor. Raising coverage from `30,000 to `5 lakh for a year per family, and to 10 crore families will probably make it, as the FM has said, one of the biggest hospitalisation insurances in the world. However, not using these resources to strengthen India’s public health infrastructure, indicates the government’s bias towards supporting the private sector at the cost the people. India’s failing public healthcare system needs this money direly.
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Amongst the most unfortunate are the neglected senior citizens, particularly in the unorganised sector. Pensions for the elderly poor remain at the inhuman level of `200 per month. Total allocation has only risen by 5%, not even keeping pace with the rise in numbers to be covered. What makes it worse for economically marginalised citizens is that MPs now have the assurance that their salaries & emoluments will be revised every five years, indexed to inflation. Workers/ farmers have been demanding such a mechanism for years.
Unfortunately, the farmers, the elderly, the children, and other Indian citizens have no such means to stake their claim to basic entitlements, much less discuss the Budget, and vote on it.
By Aruna Roy