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Jaitley plays Farmville with Rs 7,500 CR

Jaitley plays Farmville with Rs 7,500 CR
With the objective to provide a new lease of life to agriculture sector, finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday announced several new schemes in the general Budget. Giving priority to farm sector in the first Budget of the Narendra Modi government, the finance minister announced a price stabilisation fund, steps to set up a national market for farm produce, irrigation schemes, new agricultural universities as well as initiatives to increase warehousing and rural internet connectivity to revive the sector, which contributes 14 per cent to the gross domestic product and employs 55 per cent of the population.

Finance minister Arun Jaitley while presenting his maiden Budget in Lok Sabha on Thursday said that the government is committed to sustain a growth of 4 per cent in agriculture. He said that for this government will bring technology driven second Green Revolution with focus on higher productivity and include 'Protein revolution' as an area of major focus. Jaitley further added that banks are providing strong credit support to the agriculture sector. A target of Rs 8 lakh crore has been set for agriculture credit during 2014-15 which he is confident that the banks will surpass in the current financial year. The Modi government has decided to continue the Interest Subvention Scheme and raise corpus of Rural Infrastructure Development Fund to Rs 25,000 crore. With the aim to reducing the wastage in the agriculture supply chain, the Centre has allocated Rs 5,000 crore to Warehouse Infrastructure Fund.

Stressing on punctuality, the Modi government has announced additional interest waiver of 3 per cent from the current 7 per cent to farmers who make timely payments of their loan. Containing food inflation also seemed to be the focus with the government announcing Price Stabilization Fund of Rs 500 crore to mitigate the risk of price volatility in agricultural produce. A major part of agricultural land is dependent on rains as only 40 per cent of the country's area under agriculture is irrigated. The Budget has announced an amount of Rs 1,000 crore for a new scheme called Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojna. 'There was a need to provide assured irrigation to mitigate risk to the farmer since bulk of the farm lands are rainfed and depend on monsoon. This scheme would facilitate access to irrigation,' the finance minister said. Apart from irrigation, the low productivity is the other area of concern in agriculture.

With the aim to promote research in agriculture sector to improve the yield, the government announced to set up two institutes on the lines of the pattern of Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Pusa. The Modi government has allocated Rs 100 crore fund to establish research institutes in Assam and Jharkhand. Also agricultural universities are proposed to be set up in Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, besides two horticulture universities in Telangana and Haryana. The Jaitley's Budget also talked about the Modi government's objective to work closely with states to re-orient Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act. This move will help in development of farmers' markets and other marketing reforms. A farmer will not necessarily need to sell in a mandi and this will lower the costs of food products.

The government has re-introduced Kisan Vikas Patra (KVP) to encourage people, who may have banked and unbanked savings to invest in this instrument. KVP was a very popular instrument among small savers and is being re-introduced to promote saving. Deteriorating soil health has been a cause of concern and leads to sub optimal utilisation of farming resources. The government, in the Budget, has initiated a scheme to provide to every farmer a soil health card in a mission mode. The finance minister proposed to set aside a sum of Rs 100 core for this purpose. An additional Rs 56 crore has been allocated to set up 100 mobile soil testing laboratories across the county. There have also been growing concerns about the imbalance in the utilisation of different types of fertilisers resulting in deterioration of the soil.

Putting thrust on information technology, the government has announced Rs 100 crore dedicated Kisan TV to ensure price, weather and agriculture related information to farmers and to help them take timely decisions. The finance minister has proposed to provide finance to 5 lakh joint farming groups of Bhoomi Heen Kisan through NABARD in the current financial year as a very large number of landless farmers are unable to provide land title as guarantee, institutional finance is denied to them and they become vulnerable to money lenders’ usurious lending. Jaitely also proposed to set aside a sum of Rs 50 crore for the development of indigenous cattle breeds and an equal amount for starting a blue revolution in inland fisheries.

Lauding the measures for the sector, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said, ‘Till now, agriculture used to be on the sidelines in union budgets but this is the first time that agriculture has been given pride of place in the budget.’ While taking a dig at Budget, former agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said, ‘A slew of announcements have been made. But there is no fuel in the engine to achieve the desired development goals. I am disappointed. I am not satisfied.’ Noting that climate change is a reality and Indian agriculture is most prone to it, Jaitley proposed an initial allocation of Rs 100 crore to establish ‘National Adaptation Fund’ for climate change.
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