Breaking with tradition, Union finance minister Jaswant Singh chose not to conform to the two-part format while delivering his maiden budget speech on February 28. But there was no departure from practice in this year's Union budget as it was at the end of the day another populist document. No sign of long-term planning or any strategy beyond the coming fiscal
breaking with tradition, Union finance minister Jaswant Singh chose not to conform to the two-part format while delivering his maiden budget speech on February 28. But there was no departure from practice in this year's Union budget as it was at the end of the day another populist document. No sign of long-term planning or any strategy beyond the coming fiscal.
The welcome provisions were few and far between (see box: The right move). Singh did list out the government's 'Panch priorities': poverty eradication, infrastructure development, tax reforms, agriculture and irrigation, and the manufacturing sector. But, as Shreekant Gupta of the Delhi School of Economics says, a "much more pro-active and holistic approach is needed", and ad-hoc measures will not help.
The budget was presented against the backdrop of the severe drought in several parts of the country, the upcoming polls and the standoff in Iraq. Not surprisingly, drought proofing has emerged as one of its salient features. Under this, precision farming (which uses the best available technologies to tailor soil and crop management) and hi-tech interventions (including drip irrigation) are set to be promoted. A total of Rs 50 crore has been allocated for the scheme. The drawback is that the budgetary provisions on drip irrigation provide only a broad outline, says Apoorva Oza, the head of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, an Ahmedabad-based non-governmental organisation.
Though Singh described agriculture as the "life blood of our economy", he made no mention of crop diversification -- particularly into oilseeds and pulses. Horticulture products have been propped up in the budget. They, however, have a short shelf life and would only create a glut in the market. Instead, an attempt should have been made to break the rice-wheat-rice cycle of cropping pattern. The central budget, opines economist Abhijit Sen, can in any case do very little for agriculture since it is a state subject.
Additional cess on diesel; the amount so realised to be used for rural roads
Special allocation of Rs 20 crore for research in renewables
Agriculture diversified into hi-tech horticulture and precision farming
Task force on drip irrigation and sprinklers
Issue price of fertilisers raised
Maru Gochar Yojana for rehabilitation of traditional pastures in Rajasthan
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