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MP BUDGET 2006-07 | Tasks ahead for Raghavji

RAGHAVJI IS all set to make his fourth budget speech in the Vidhan Sabha; that is, if one includes the interim budget speech that he made in February 2004 soon after he took over as the State?s Finance Minister.

india Updated: Feb 20, 2006 15:07 IST
C Rajasekhar
C Rajasekhar

RAGHAVJI IS all set to make his fourth budget speech in the Vidhan Sabha; that is, if one includes the interim budget speech that he made in February 2004 soon after he took over as the State’s Finance Minister.

Not being a trained economist himself, the FM should have been less reclusive and would have done well had he consulted NGOs, farmers’ groups, trade unions, industry chambers and researchers through post and e-mail before presenting the State’s budget for 2006-07.

Nevertheless, the FM has his strengths too. As a result of his vast experience in the State’s public life, Raghavji understands its socio-economic realities quite well. Moreover, he enjoys some political advantages too — he is a seasoned and veteran BJP politician and of late has the ears of the Chief Minister too.

What challenges does the FM face? His biggest task is to spur the State’s tardy rate of economic growth given the scarce fiscal resources. Moreover, with the BJP government having completed a little more than two years in office and the budget coming close to Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s Budhni by-poll, the time has come to fulfil many of the unfulfilled promises made in the BJP’s manifesto. Thus, fettered by political considerations, Raghavji would in all probability have to play to the gallery.

While it is true that the devil is in the details, the Chouhan government’s first budget must broadly outline a roadmap for agriculture and rural development – areas vital for stepping up the State’s economic growth and for alleviating rural poverty.

With nearly 70 per cent of farming being rain-fed in the State and building dams and laying canals difficult because of the State’s undulating topography, rainwater harvesting and recharging groundwater appears to be the best bet for irrigating agricultural lands. The government must earmark adequate funds for its recently launched Jalabhishek Yojana – that is the rehashed version of Digvijay Singh’s pet Paani Roko Abhiyan.

About 80 per cent of the State’s farm population comprises of small and marginal farmers and landless agriculture workers. The FM should announce a comprehensive social security scheme to protect these sections.

A nominal subscription fee could be fixed for the scheme – say Rs 5 for landless farm workers and Rs 10 for small and marginal farmers – this amount could be contributed by the local government institutions. Covering people between the age of 18 and 60 years of age, the scheme could provide assistance for education (Rs 1000 to Rs 5000) to members’ dependents, Rs 3000 assistance for health expenses, assistance for marriage (Rs 1500 for males and Rs 5000 for females), Rs 1500 for maternity assistance, Rs 1500 for meeting funeral expenses of deceased member, assistance of Rs 10,000 in case of natural death etc.

The implementation and monitoring of this scheme could be done by a committee comprising of, amongst others, the local MLA, the DM, the sarpanch etc. A comprehensive safety net of such a nature would ameliorate the socio-economic conditions of the most distressed sections of the State. Funds from the District Rural Development Agency (DRDA), DFID programmes could be innovatively channelised into this scheme.

On the lines of the ITC’s e-chaupal scheme, the FM could earmark funds for creating IT infrastructure with PCs and internet facilities across the State to enable farmers to get information relevant to agriculture like weather conditions, market prices of farm products, mandi arrivals across the State and in the different parts of the country etc.

By signing an MoU with the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation (NAFED), the State’s Agriculture Department could carry out this programme and also persuade NAFED to construct godowns and cold storages to enable farmers store their produce, to set up farm malls from where the farmer could shop for seeds, fertilisers etc.

MP accounts for nearly 15 per cent of the country’s Self-help Groups (SHGs) and they are mostly in the countryside. It is high time that these SHGs are converted into solid business enterprises.

The FM must immediately sanction funds to conduct a comprehensive survey to identify the potential of the State’s SHGs, their product development, financial requirements, marketing and other networking aspects etc.

Once the survey results come out, the State Government could embark on a business plan for these SHGs, taking financial assistance from NABARD for the purpose.

Meanwhile, faced with fiscal and political constraints, the Finance Minister has to provide momentum to the State’s economy. To see how well he walks this tightrope, one would have to wait till 10.30 am on February 21.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, National Law Institute University, Bhopal)

First Published: Feb 20, 2006 15:07 IST