A farmers’ budget!

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My hectic travel during these days has kept me from posts, which would be so until I return to Kolkata in the next couple of days. The much debated budget proposals were presented to the parliament with the PM and a host of  his colleagues patting themselves for an excellent, pro-poor budget, even as the bourses reacted with disdain and anger, pulling down Sensex by 850 points.

If  FM Yashwantrao Chavan’s Rs.550 crores deficit of 1973 was called a black budget, we seemingly have become colour blind by ignoring the many zeroes that are added to the deficits in recent budgets, running to lakhs of crores, though the outlay too has also increased exponentially and the deficits are usually running  below 4%.

Primarily it seemed to be an atonement by the government for the sins of ignoring the farmers, who, crushed between the money lenders and poor realisation prices or droughts continue to commit suicides. The FM Shri Arun Jaitley has announced a MSP, minimum support price, one and half times the cost of produce, though the mechanisms have not been spelt out. MSP covers24 crops that includes seven cereals(paddy, wheat, barley, maize and ragi), five pulses(gram, arhat/tur, moong, urad and lentil), eight oil seeds, copra, raw cotton, raw jute and VFC tobacco. The MSP is fixed by Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CASP).From the face of it the proposal seems to be laudable. What will happen to the potato, tomato, onion and vegetable growers? In the absence of MSP they are at the mercy of mandi owners, whether it is bumper yield that crashes the prices or poor yield that crashes the farmers’ livelihood!

Farms suffer from lack of mechanisation, due to small plot sizes, successive governments  spreading out land pattas to as  many poor as possible over the decades.  An effort should be made to teach co-operative farming methods using the latest technology to increase yield per acre, or benefit farming community. I guess alarm bells raised of job losses could be unfounded.

If a substantial produce is wasted by rotting due to storage,  or post harvest shortcomings, that requires to be addressed too. Cold storages, irradiation facilities should be set up, wherever necessary.

The 100% income tax exemption continues on farm income and no wonder a majority of politicians and film stars utilise this route to evade taxes. It reminds one of  Jayalalithaa declaring hundreds of crores income from a few acres of grapevines, prompting trolls seeking her secret farming methods. Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan had earlier declared themselves farmers, while the real tillers of lands die agonising deaths in abject poverty. Hope these change too!

The FM announced what he claimed to be the world’s largest health insurance program, Rs. 5 lakhs for each of 10 crore families, with no details on allocation of funds in the budget, but don’t forget that the FM has been a successful lawyer and has power to convince, Just like his boss!

Sampath Kumar

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