The euphoria over the Budget of 2017-18 is dying down slowly with the markets melting away, giving place to anxiety. Is this really a rural Budget? A budget that really helps the farmers? Four years have lapsed and there is little time for the BJP-led NDA government to get down to the act. Though the media blared it away as a people's Budget, the farmers in the country don't seem to be happy with it. Did the Budget really mean well for the farmers harangued both by the weather gods and the governments of the day in the country?
Despite the opening section of this year’s Budget speech devoted to agriculture and farmers – clearly under pressure from stark agrarian distress and farmers’ unrest and struggles – the grand posturing of the Finance Minister in the Parliament is hollow in terms of real outlays, alleged farm activists in their #KisanKaBudget analysis.
Worse, the Finance Minister presented a false picture of minimum support price (MSP) for various crops of farmers for Rabi 2017-18 by claiming that prices announced had covered 50% of the cost of production, whereas not a single crop had a profit margin of at least 50% on the cost of production.
In fact, the outlays for the Market Intervention and Price Support scheme (important schemes in the context of the Government’s promises on prices) fell from Rs 950 crore of revised estimates last year, to a meagre Rs 200 crore – this is a dramatic decline by nearly 5 times!
It is apparent that the FM’s Budget statement on effecting better price realisation around MSP is not to be believed. It is also apparent from the NPA write-offs to industry as announced in this Budget, without doing anything about the debt relief being demanded by farmers’ movements, that this government is unresponsive and irresponsible when it comes to our 'annadaatas'.
The main features of this year’s Budget are:
Budgetary outlays for agriculture a mere 2.3% of the total budget: Animal Husbandry gets only 5.4% of the overall agri ministry budget – this, despite the fact that livestock sector is the most important and critical sector for the most marginalised farmers of the country, including women farmers.
Market Intervention and Price Support Scheme support falls from Rs 950 crore revised estimate in 2017-18 to a meagre Rs 200 crore.
Agri credit target has been fixed at Rs 11 lakh crore when the agriculture credit disbursed in 2016-17 itself was 10.66 lakh crore.
On Disaster Relief allocation to states, a marginal decline from last year.
On major schemes under “Green Revolution” which has PKVY, RKVY etc., outlays are the same as before, with PKVY receiving Rs 10 crore more than last year, while the revised estimates (RE) of 2017-18 were Rs 100 crore lower than the BE (Budget estimates).
On Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, while the Economic Survey talks about rapid expansion of efficient micro-irrigation, there is a meagre increase of 600 crores for this component in PMKSY, even as there is a 20% increase in the overall outlay of this scheme.
Though Fisheries was mentioned in a grand manner by the FM in his Budget Speech, with an increase from Rs 400 crore to Rs 633 crore, it is important to note that last year’s revised estimates were only 75% of BE.
Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, despite its failure to save farmers’ interests and a major irresponsible wastage of public funds has additional outlay of RS 4000 crore, which will apparently benefit the insurance industry.
Fertiliser subsidy remains the same as before, whereas food subsidy increased by a small 16%.
Reacting to the Budget, Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan said, “The government has shown that they don’t care for the suffering of the farmers. It demonstrates a clear lack of political will. They think they can win elections without addressing real concerns of the farmers.”
“The government has been forced to bring up the issue of prices for farmers, which is the success of farmers’ movements of the country. However, there are no concrete measures and commitments made to farmers at all to pull them out of their crisis.
The government’s promise on delivering 50% more on the cost of production is a jumla again, since instead of calculating net returns on C2, they are trying to get away with A2+FL figures of cost of production. It is well worth remembering that most farmers in India are Kharif cultivators, mainly rainfed, ones who may not be in a position to grow a second crop and that is where the most injustice has been done already”, said Kavitha Kuruganti, Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture.
The crux of the battle on Prices boils down to the government’s definition on “Cost of Production.” Like a schoolboy shifting goal posts and declaring victory, the government seems to have chosen a lower cost measure so that it can declare that it is already providing cost+50% in this Rabi. Farmer organizations have always been asking for C2 + 50%.
If A2 + FL is to be considered the basis, then UPA government was already providing greater than 50% returns over A2 + FL in most major crops including paddy, wheat, cotton, soybean, tur, urad, chana, bajra, etc. If BJP thinks that provides sufficient returns to farmers, then why did Modi go around campaigning on a higher MSP? The reality is that the prices under UPA were not providing sufficient income for farmers, and the prices under NDA have become much worse.
"The farmers understand this reality however Jaitley tries to window-dress it,” said Kiran Vissa of Rythu Swarajya Vedika. "While the Budget Speech refers to the plight of tenant farmers, despite a Bhoomiheen Kisan Credit scheme announced a few years, there is no difference in their situation. Most of the farm suicides in several states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha etc., are of tenant farmers.
In this Budget too, there was no support provided for tenant farmers and lessees. The FM referred to the the NITI Aayog’s Model Land Leasing Act 2016 which has nothing to protect the interests of tenant farmers, and in fact, has no takers on the ground”, he said.
Soma Parthasarathy of Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM) said that while the Economic Survey showcases a box item on feminisation of agriculture, Arun Jaitley’s perception of farmers as male farmers, and references to Kisan Bhais misses out on the high contribution and criticality of women farmers in Indian agriculture.
“We feel highly disappointed that in the end, the issue of women farmers has only become a box item in the Economic Survey, used as a publicity tool by the Government to make it appear that they are sensitive to women farmers. Many demands of women farmers, including pilot schemes for gender disaggregated land records, for agriculture credit, relief for SHG loans in case of disasters, for land purchase schemes for landless women especially dalit women, expansion of and higher maternity entitlements, special schemes for single women farmers and women from farm suicide families etc. have not materialised in this budget,” she said.
Kisan Credit Cards being expanded to animal husbandry and fisheries is welcome. However, here too, women farmers have to be prioritised, and real farmers have to be identified.
“The announcement of organic farming under NRLM for women’s SHGs is a rehashed programme, which the NDA government weakened when it came to power. Mahila Kisan Sashaktikaran Pariyojana was doing this much before BJP government’s organic farming schemes were launched.
Favorable tax regime for FPOs is welcome announcement and resolves the long standing conflict that individual agriculturists are not taxable in this country, whereas when they collectivise themselves, they are being taxed. This will encourage more farmers to organise themselves into FPOs”, said Avik Saha of Jai Kisan Andolan. All in all, there is little for the farmers to cheer with the Budget.