We do not want big announcements, we seek small changes. national agricultural market is need of the hour, provided the fine print is in order
Interview: Ajay Jakhar, Chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj
The finance minister has recognised that agricultural income is under stress. The Budget was low on specifics like last time so it will take time to read the fine print. First impressions are that it provides a road map for long-term growth dividend rather than short-term visible gains. Gains that will incur will also take time to become visible.
Proposals like providing funding for soil health card scheme and organic farming scheme — Paramparagat Krishi Vikas Yojana coupled with Pradhanmantri Gram Sinchai Yojana — are in line with our suggestions to the finance minister when he called us for pre-Budget consultations.
We hope tax benefits don’t extend to flood irrigation projects though, because that would negate all growth dividend. We must stick to incentivising micro irrigation and I hope that is what the finance minister meant.
We do not want big announcements, we seek small changes which would ensure sustainable development of the sector. The announced creation of the national agricultural market is the need of the hour. It will help farmers get better prices on one side and consumers will not have to pay exorbitantly for fresh produce, provided the fine print is in order and it is actually implemented. Because implementation is to be done by state governments, the finance minister will have to convince the states of the benefits accruing from this.
With the budget announcements, we hope agriculture commodity markets will become more transparent and that will curtail speculation. Certain things only time will tell. Our demand for infusion of funds for refinance of RRB has been met and R45,000 crore for short-term cooperative rural credit refinance fund is also a welcome step.
Another encouraging announcement is that subsidies will not be reduced but leakages will be plugged. The JAM Trinity — Jan Dhan, Aadhaar and Mobile number — will be the game changer to make every paisa help alleviate poverty. Praise for the banking sector was too generous, considering how agriculture credit is dispersed. It being increased to R8.5 lakh crore is good, but the statement lacks transparency in terms of explaining as to who actually benefits from this largesse.
One pre-requisite for equitable prosperity is creating jobs for rural youth off the farm and that problem seems to be addressed by investment in the skill development programme. Combined with Make in India, that is the way forward.
MGNREGA is being retained, hopefully it will be tweaked to create assets. Manufacturing duty on some milk products is wrongly advised. Dairy should have been focused upon too. On the whole, the Budget is progressive and forward looking. Hope it can be implemented in the same spirit. (As told to Sandip Das)