By K R Sudhaman
One of the main problems of Indian agriculture is disguised unemployment. That is, farming by nature is seasonal and hence it does not provide job as well as income throughout the year. It is precisely for this reason every farmer needed to engage himself in some allied activities so that he can augment his income besides ensuring he has some occupation spread over the year. Auxiliary income is essential to address the livelihood concerns of our farmers, who are doing yeomen service by shouldering the responsibility of feeding the 1.3 billion people in the country day-in; day-out.
Farm distress is real and the people at large, particularly politicians, who claim to be interested in the welfare of farmers, somehow seem to be encouraging crony capitalism, advertently or inadvertently.
After the recent election setbacks in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and none too good showing in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi government has woken up at last to look into the sad plight of the farmers. The Uttar Pradesh by-elections have only endorsed the disenchantment. BJP has lost the two parliamentary seats vacated by the state’s chief minister and deputy chief minister.
The positive development in the budget has come no sooner. That is, the decision to extend Kisan Credit Card facility to fisheries and animal husbandry. This will help farmers to meet their working capital needs thereby helping them to augment their income. Poultry, fisheries, animal husbandry and the like are useful in supplementing farm income. Animal husbandry is the second important occupation of the people after agriculture in the desert state of Rajasthan. The measure will help small and marginal farmers to avail more credit for the sale and purchase of livestock. Assembly polls are to be held in Rajasthan later this year.
Also, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley announced in the budget setting up of two funds. They are Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund and Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund. The total corpus of these two new funds would be Rs 10,000 crore. The move is expected to enhance standards of animal rearing and production, even as the government in 2016 amended norms and hiked standards under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Regulation of Livestock Markets) Rules 2016 and a similar rule for aquarium and fish tanks. The two funds are yet to be set up and hopefully they will come up sometime during the year. It is more than a month since the budget was presented so far there are no signs, as yet, of its details being worked out.
Director of Rajasthan state animal husbandry department Dr Ajay Kumar Gupta is right in saying that the devil is in details, hence he cannot comment on the benefit of the scheme at this juncture.
Last year too two such funds were set up. One was for Micro Irrigation for facilitating expansion of irrigation coverage and another for development of Dairy Processing. These are welcome developments but they are needed to be implemented properly and effectively.
India globally ranks second in fisheries and second in aquaculture. Considered an important sector to provide nutritional security, the fishery and aquaculture sector alone engages 14 million people, while it contributes about 1.1 percent to the country’s GDP and 5.15 percent to the agricultural GDP. The total fish production is 10.07 million metric tonnes. Fisheries had huge potential for further development, considering the vast coast line. It also offered great export opportunities. Though a humble beginning has been made, the size of the fund appeared inadequate, considering the potential. India needed to acquire large number of mechanised trawlers, especially for deep-sea fishing. This fund too will help Rajasthan though it is a landlocked state. Rajasthan has 15,838 water bodies of various sizes, covering an area of 4,23,765 hectares (excluding 30,000ha of rivers and canals). The waterlogged area comes to 80,000ha at full tank level (FTL) in addition to it 1,80,000ha of salt-affected area. Rajasthan has also been promoting inland fisheries, especially in the ornamental category. The extension of this facility to the fisheries sector would definitely give a push to this sector with easy credit facilities.
These are not the only measures announced in the budget, which, for the first time, has gone an extra mile to alleviate the suffering of farmers. As Jaitley said, the focus of the government next year will be on providing maximum livelihood opportunities in the rural areas. It is spending Rs 14.34 lakh crore for creation of livelihood and infrastructure in rural areas. The spending is fine but the issue is how much of it gets translated into action. Farm distress is real and augmenting farmer’s income is critical for the rural uplift. Agri-exports is yet another area that needed to be pursued vigorously. Considering the huge farm production, India had the potential to increase farm exports to at least $100 billion annually from the present $30 billion with a little effort and favourable policy and improved rural infrastructure. All these could be achieved in a very short period. The government has proposed to liberalise agri exports in the budget. Also state-of-the-art testing facilities in the 42 Mega Food Parks are to be set up to ensure high quality standards.
Jaitley said the government will also establish a dedicated Affordable Housing Fund to promote rural housing. This will help in creating much needed jobs in rural areas, apart from providing shelter to the homeless.
Overall, there are some good initiatives to address the livelihood concerns of distressed farmers but only time will tell how well and effectively they are implemented in 2017-18. (IPA Service)