New Delhi: A Twitter poll by the finance ministry inviting suggestions on which sector needs most focus in the upcoming budget has, midway through the vote, overwhelmingly picked agriculture, putting the farm sector over infrastructure, manufacturing and information technology (IT) and other services.
The post on the finance ministry’s Twitter handle on 6 January had drawn more than 21,400 votes till 8pm on Monday, with 66% of respondents seeking a more agriculture-focused budget. Infrastructure received 17% of the votes, followed by manufacturing (11%) and IT and services (6%). The poll closes on 12 January.
The finance ministry is seeking suggestions on the popular microblogging site for the second year in a row, going beyond the usual pre-budget consultations. A Twitter poll in February 2016 also chose agriculture (55% votes) as the sector that needed most attention at a time when most of India was in the grip of a second consecutive year of drought. That poll drew a little over 4,000 respondents.
This time around, farm incomes have been severely hit despite a bumper monsoon-crop harvest after prices of fruits and vegetables tumbled following a cash crunch in rural India in the aftermath of demonetization.
“The results (so far) show that even urban Indians who are more likely to use Twitter are aware of the hardships faced by farmers and want higher support for agriculture, but the point is, will the finance ministry act on it?" asked Devinder Sharma, a Chandigarh-based agriculture and food policy analyst.
Following back-to-back droughts, last year’s budget raised the allocation for the agriculture ministry by 27% from the previous year, with more funding for crop insurance and irrigation schemes.
An expert criticized the finance ministry for soliciting suggestions on social media. “When 70% of India live in villages and barely 10% use a smartphone or mediums like Twitter, a poll like this serves little purpose," said Osama Manzar, founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and a Mint columnist.
“The problem with this government is that it is always talking to the 10% on smartphone without caring what the majority wants," Manzar said.
He added, “they (the finance ministry) could have sought suggestions from people living in rural areas through panchayats or post offices if they really wanted Indians to participate in the budget making or have a say".
“We hope the finance ministry will act on the suggestions based on the Twitter poll and not use the results to create a narrative around the budget (after it is presented) and portray it as farmer-friendly," said Ajay Vir Jakhar, a farmer from Punjab and chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj, a policy advocacy body for the farm sector and a participant in the finance ministry’s pre-budget consultations. “Farmers need long-term cure to their problems, not just immediate pain relievers," he added.