Shwetank Shekhar Dubey/ ZRG
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday carried forward the plan of a 4% growth in agriculture which was set by UPA, but was not realised during the past two regimes. To meet this ambitious plan, the FM has planned for a technology-driven second Green Revolution that would focus on higher productivity, including a “Protein revolution”.
Setting aside Rs 50 crore for development of indigenous cattle breeds, an equal amount was also set aside by him to start a “Blue Revolution” in inland fisheries.
Though farming contributes one-sixth to the national GDP, farmers say it is not a paying activity. This is despite the fact that India ranks among the top three in the world for production of cereals, cotton, vegetables, fruits, milk and eggs.
A slew of measures have been planned by the government to benefit farmers by increasing competition and integrating markets. While a national market has been planned, states will be consulted to change APMC Acts to develop Farmers’ Markets so that farmers can sell their produce directly.
Jaitley has also planned to make farming profitable for which investment in agro-technology development and modernization of existing agri-business infrastructure would be stepped up.
Even wage opportunities through MGNREGA would be provided through works that are more productive, asset creating and substantially linked to agriculture and allied activities.
As part of overhauling the subsidy regime, Jaitley said that a new urea policy would be formulated to benefit farmers.
The Finance Minister also laid a stress on warehousing facilities for agriculture produce to increase their shelf life. For this, scientific warehousing infrastructure would be built at a cost of Rs 5,000 crore. Also, climate change acts adversely to production and to meet this challenge a “National Adaptation Fund” of Rs 100 crore will be spent.
Lack of research has also had an adverse effect on production, however, there is only one agricultural institute in Pusa, New Delhi, which does research on increasing output. The government has planned to establish another two institutions on the same lines in Assam and Jharkhand with Rs 100 crore being allocated for it. In addition, Rs 100 crore is being set aside for setting up an “Agri-Tech Infrastructure Fund”.
Apart from that, agriculture universities in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan and horticulture universities in Telangana and Haryana have been proposed with Rs 200 crore.
Farm output has also fallen due to lack of optimum utilisation of resources due to improper soil health. While every farmer will be provided a soil health card with Rs 100 crore has been set aside for this purpose, an additional Rs 56 crore to set up 100 Mobile Soil Testing Laboratories across the country has also been proposed.
Another major issue, food security, was addressed by Jaitley by plans of restructuring FCI, reducing transportation and distribution losses and improving the Public Distribution System. To provide grains to poor when there is a decline in agriculture production, the government will undertake open market sales to keep prices under control.
A 24-hour television channel, Kisan TV, would be set up for Rs 100 crore to disseminate real time information to the farmers information regarding new farming techniques, water conservation, organic farming, etc.
Financing for farmers has always been a problem, but banks have played a major role in them meeting their loan needs. The FM announced that the Interest Subvention Scheme for short term crop loans will be continued this year. Under this scheme, banks give loans to farmers at a concessional rate of 7% and give a further incentive of 3% for timely repayment.
In order to benefit landless farmers, who have to depend on local moneylenders, finance to 5 lakh joint farming groups of “Bhoomi Heen Kisan” through NABARD will be provided.