Budget 2019: A pro-farmer slant but just a field of dreams -Sayantan Bera


* FM vows to invest widely in agriculture infrastructure, but offers little to revive rural income and demand

* In terms of new schemes, the budget announced Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana for the fisheries sector and another to boost traditional industries

In March 2018, Rakesh Sangwan, 27, a farmer in Haryana’s Charkhi Dadri, stopped watering his tomato plants. The crop slowly withered away and, subsequently, it was mowed down by a tractor. It was not an easy choice for a farmer to destroy the fruits of his labour, but it was a wise strategy. As wholesale prices dipped to barely a quarter of a rupee per kg of tomato, Sangwan decided to forego his harvest—to save on labour costs and then transporting it to the nearest wholesale market. In one season, Sangwan lost over ?1 lakh.

But did Friday’s budget bring any relief to Sangwan, and to the millions of other farmers in India, who are reeling under drought and rising debts? The brief answer is “no". This, despite finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman insisting in her budget speech that “gaon, gareeb and kisan (villagers, poor and farmer)" were at the centre of the government’s reforms initiatives.

In terms of new schemes, the budget announced Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana, to plug gaps in the fisheries value chain, and another to promote traditional industries around bamboo, honey and textiles. The finance minister pledged to “invest widely in agricultural infrastructure" and said the government will go back to the basics on one count: zero budget natural farming (ZBNF). “Steps such as this can help in doubling our farmers’ income in time for our 75th year of independence," she added. ZBNF is a farming method which relies on a mix of cow dung, urine and jaggery as the primary soil nutrient instead of chemical fertilizers.

Experts, however, debunked such a possibility. “It is farfetched to even imagine that ZBNF can help improve farmer incomes," said Ajay Vir Jakhar, chairman, Bharat Krishak Samaj, a farm policy advocacy body. “There is nothing in this budget to revive rural income and demand. The allocation for few schemes which the finance minister mentioned in her speech is meagre. Since farmers voted on issues other than their own livelihood, agriculture has lost the symbolic importance it used to enjoy in the budget."

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Livemint.com, 5 July, 2019, https://www.livemint.com/budget/news/budget-2019-a-pro-farmer-slant-but-just-a-field-of-dreams-1562344668306.html

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