The Union Budget presented by P Chidambaram is remarkable in placing faces before figures. The finance minister's speech throughout emphasised the need for caring for women, children, youth and the poor.
Thus, his budget will be remembered not only for its strategies to stimulate economic growth and control fiscal deficit but also for the importance given to the needs of the economically and socially underprivileged sections of society. The approach is not one of charity and patronage but of skill, knowledge empowerment and asset building.
In the field of agriculture, Chidambaram has adopted a three-pronged strategy:
1. Defend the gains already made in the original green revolution areas like Punjab and Haryana. For this purpose, he has proposed crop diversification in a manner that both farm ecology and farm economics are safeguarded. The budget provides Rs 500 crore to start a crop diversification programme.
2. Extend the gains to new areas: In relation to this goal, Chidambaram has provided Rs 1,000 crore for extending the yield revolution to eastern India, particularly in states such as Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal, where already the schemes introduced by his predecessor Pranab Mukherjee are making their impact felt.
3. Make new gains: The finance minister has provided Rs 200 crore to start a major initiative for establishing nutri-farms.
In the area of technology development, Chidambaram has provided funds for a National Institute of Biotic Stress Management at Raipur, Chhattisgarh, and for a Centre of Excellence in Agricultural Biotechnology at Ranchi, Jharkhand. He has also proposed the replanting and rejuvenation of coconut gardens in the whole of Kerala.
Among other initiatives is the emphasis laid on farmer-producer organisations to increase income and market share of small farmers. The proposed R307-crore National Livestock Mission will pay particular attention to animal nutrition.
Chidambaram has also announced farm loans at 4% interest as suggested by the National Commission on Farmers. For 2013-14, the availability of agricultural credit will be raised to Rs 7,00,000 crore.
While every aspect and problem related to farming cannot be dealt with in the Union Budget since agriculture is a state subject, I only wish that Chidambaram had also included a programme for farm mechanisation.
An important feature of the budget is its emphasis on education, healthcare and skill empowerment. He should be complimented for his holistic approach and also for his reminder to the nation that all work should be for improving human capability, happiness and fulfilment.