The Union Budget 2018 introduced on 1 February in Parliament has addressed to an extent rural impoverishment and unemployment issues. Agriculture has always occupied the concerns of the people of this country and is a sensitive sector.
Very rightly, the finance minister has said, “for decades, the country’s agriculture policy and programme had remained production centric; and now, this government wants to double farmer income by 2022. This government considers agriculture as an enterprise and wants them to realize higher prices for their produce."
Finance minister Arun Jaitley has made a policy intervention relating to the minimum support price (MSP). Now onwards, the MSP would be at least 50% more than the cost of their produce. This is a historic decision indeed and definitely an important step toward doubling the income of our farmers.
But we should not forget that active procurement takes place only in rice and wheat, which are linked to the public distribution system (PDS). There are tur, corn, maize, cotton, soybean which also need adequate MSP and government intervention to provide support to the farmers. There is a need for the government to create the machinery which not only develops the system to procure but also provide storage facilities.
Intervention through MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) to develop gramin agricultural market is the correct step in the right direction. Institutional credit for agriculture sector is increasing year by year and this year it is being increased from Rs10 trillion in 2017-18 to Rs11 trillion in the ensuing fiscal. On the face of it, it is a welcome step no doubt, but how much money is actually being invested in agricultural production, conservation and mechanization needs to be monitored.
Attempts have also been made to address the problem the MSME sector has been facing for quite a long time. MSME sector provides maximum job opportunities and works as the lynchpin in the growth of the economy by encouraging production in the manufacturing sector. This sector had faced tremendous challenges because of demonetisation and slowly is making a turn around. The big database that is there now with the government will help MSME business in clean money.
This year’s budget has recognized the problem that people face to receive indoor treatment in hospitals. The Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojana provides only Rs30,000 to poor families. As a flagship National Health Protection Scheme to cover over 100 million poor and vulnerable families, it has been increased up to Rs5 lakh per family per year for secondary and tertiary care hospitalization, which means Rs8,000 per person per month. This is not adequate and there is apprehension that the free treatment that the government provides today may be priced later on, putting the vulnerable section into more difficulty.
I would like to draw the attention also towards the declaration of this government to rapidly transform 115 backward districts by addressing their specific development needs. On the face of it, this sounds good. This is an issue which found place in the President’s address and now in the finance minister’s budget speech. It is nothing but infringing into the states’ domain and goes against constitutional provisions. How can the Union government intervene directly in developmental activities without the states’ involvement? Yes, some of them are backward districts in the country, but who has identified them? Our Constitution is supreme. The basic concept of identifying some districts as backward and appointing “prabhari officers" of the Government of India for these districts is a matter which will have a direct impact on the federal structure of the Constitution. Every state government is fully engaged with its development agenda. Without discussion in the inter-state council and without ascertaining the views of the state governments beforehand, how is the Union government going ahead to make them a model of development? This is nothing but usurping the state subject and taking everything for granted.
The budget is an annual policy statement of the Union government. The challenge before the country today is to generate more employment. The pronouncement made through this budget can only be realized if the revenue collection is up to the target. It has not met the target in 2017-18. Therefore, I only wish we can achieve it, given the challenges that are before the country. The only silver lining is that ours is the fastest growing major economy in the world, and there is tremendous potential of the young mass to achieve things. Thanks to the finance minister, who has laid down the facts of our fiscal situation and proposed to invest money where it would give maximum return.
Bhartruhari Mahtab is Member of Parliament, Biju Janata Dal.
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