In this year's budget, Pranab Mukherjee has essentially tried to consolidate the gains made as a result of the initiatives he had launched during the previous two budgets. Thus, in agriculture, there is no new initiative except increasing the target for agricultural credit to Rs. 5,75,000 crore during 2012-13. This represents an increase of over Rs. 1,00,000 crore from last year.
The interest rate of 4% recommended by the National Commission for Farmers has been retained for those who are able to repay the loans promptly. On the credit side, there are proposals for technologically upgrading the Kisan Credit Card. Similarly, there is a proposal to amend the Bill relating to the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development.
The budget contains an assurance that the amount of subsidy required for operationalising the legal commitments contained in the National Food Security Bill will be made available. The exact figure will be known only after the Bill is finalised and adopted by both the houses of Parliament.
The finance minister has also proposed to improve the governance of subsidy delivery particularly in the case of fertilisers. The subsidy will be paid this year directly to farmers' accounts in 50 select districts. Obviously, the details will have to be worked out.
Among the gains of the earlier initiatives, which are to be consolidated, mention may be made of the initiative to bring the green revolution to eastern India. The finance minister has increased the allocation for this scheme to Rs. 1,000 crore from Rs. 400 crore last year.
The budget also provides substantial additional allocation to irrigation and agricultural research and extension. A new national mission on food processing will be started in order to minimise spoilage. This is a good step because, at present, there is a great mismatch between production and post-harvest technologies.
The proposal to set up an irrigation and water resource finance company is also a good one, provided it concentrates on supporting rainwater harvesting through Jal Kunds, wastewater recycling and micro-irrigation.
He has also proposed to launch a programme for coastal aquaculture with an outlay of R500 crore.
The finance minister has announced various excise and custom duty exemptions, which will help stimulate additional investments by the private sector. Also, provisions have been made for increasing the grain storage capacity by 2 million tonnes through the construction of modern silos. It is also hoped that the additional storage capacity for 5 million tonnes will be added very soon.
The Economic Survey (2011-12) shows that though the contribution of agriculture and allied sectors has come down to 13.9% of the GDP at 2004-05 prices, as compared to 14.5% last year, it continues to be the primary employment-providing sector in rural India.
Considering that India will become the youngest nation by 2020, the budget does not contain any provision for attracting and retaining the youth in agriculture. Steps will have to be taken to promote interest in agriculture among the educated youth in rural areas.
State governments will have to take the lead in designing and implementing programmes with the active participation of Panchayati Raj institutions. If agriculture goes wrong in our country, nothing stands a chance of going right.
Swaminathan, MP, Rajya Sabha, on Agri and Food Security in Budget 2012-13