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Will the drubbing it faced in Delhi election and the huge controversy over its land Bill make BJP reconsider its economic thrust areas?
This year’s budget will be the first full year budget of the Narendra Modi government. Since it is likely to set a precedent for the next four years, people involved in different sectors of the economy are hoping that the budget brings some good news for them.
Though the government’s decisions in the past few months, such as its “Make in India” campaign and the efforts to attract foreign investments, indicate its pro-corporate tilt, the drubbing it got in the Delhi election and the opposition it faced for its land acquisition ordinance might make it reconsider its thrust areas.
Even the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), the economic wing of Bharatiya Janata Party’s ideological mentor Rastriya Swayamseval Sangh, has showed its dismay over the government’s pro-corporate posturing.“Since it came to power, Modi has been following the policies of the Manmohan Singh government. We want him to announce a concrete policy to check foreign direct investment and to do away with policies supporting cultivation of GM crops,” says Ashwin Mahajan, all India convener of SJM.
A look at the major expectations from the budget:
Once considered the backbone of the Indian economy, agriculture has been facing serious problems. More than half of agricultural households in the country are in debt, says a recent National Sample Survey Office report. On an average, farm debts have seen a four-fold rise in the past decade (Read: Into the abyss?).
Devinder Sharma, a food and agriculture analyst, says the budget should address this problem on priority basis. “The government has been increasing farm credit every year. But 94 per cent of the credit goes to agro-industries and not to farmers,” says Sharma. He says farm credit could see an increase from Rs 8 lakh crore to Rs10 lakh crore in the coming budget. “We demand segregation of subsidies between farmers and agro-based industries,” he adds.
*The agriculture sector budget, which currently is even less than that of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), should be increased.
*Farm credit should see a rise.
*Renewed focus on irrigation programmes. A central authority to manage irrigation should be created. Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, the flagship programme on irrigation announced last year, has yet not been implemented.
*Funds for horticulture should increase. Programmes to improve soil-health and organic farming in the Northeast region should be launched.
The two important flagship employment generation programmes of the government— MGNREGS and Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY)— have been facing shortage of funds. The implementation of MGNREGS has been confined to only 2,500 blocks in the country. This has impacted rural livelihood. MGNREGS was the previous UPA government’s pet programme and has not received adequate support from the present one. Even last year, the fund allocated to it was so less that nearly Rs5,000 crore of wages could not be paid.
“We have fought for three decades to get the right to work and education,” says Paulomee Mistry, general secretary of an Ahmedabad-based MGNREGS workers’ union. “Now the government is planning to take away these rights. Our expectation is that these rights be kept intact,” she adds.
*MGNREGS fund should be increased. There should be no change in this programme.
*PMGSY fund should increase. It is the only scheme which used its total allocations last year. “The target was to lay 21,000 km of rural roads. But only 15,000 km of roads could be constructed due to shortage of funds,” says an official on condition of anonymity.
In 2014, the new government had fixed the target of removing open defecation from India by 2019. It had assessed that the money required to achieve this objective would be Rs1.3 lakh crore. The budget allocated in 2014 for drinking water and sanitation was Rs 14,000 crore. Of this, Rs10,000 crore was for drinking water and Rs 4,000 crore for sanitation. This amount of Rs 14,000 crore was reduced to Rs 9,000 crore after the half yearly review of budget in November 2014.
Joe Madiath, founder of non-profit Gram Vikas, which has been working on issues relating to sanitation for more than three decades, says that the sanitation budget should at least be doubled. “We are expecting an increase in allocation. The budget allocated for sanitation is Rs 4,000 crore. It should be not less than Rs 8,000 crore,” says Madiath.
He also says that the cost of toilet pans should be reduced by removing excise and sale tax from these items. “The current cost is around Rs350. If exempted from excise and sale tax, the cost would be reduced to below Rs200,” Madiath adds.
The National Food Security Act (NFSA) was enacted in 2013. It guaranteed cheaper grains to more than 800 million people. But the Act has not been implemented even one-and-a-half years after it was enacted. The Act should be implemented without any further delay, says Deepa Sinha, a Delhi-based food rights activist. “Under NFSA, it was decided to provide a one-time benefit of Rs 6000 in cash to lactating mothers. We expect that the budget takes care of this initiative,” she adds. According to her, the total cost in implementation of this initiative is around Rs15,000 crore.
Sinha also says that the government should not replace the public distribution system with direct benefit transfer scheme and should increase the food subsidy to Rs1,30,000 crore from the current Rs1,15,000 crore.
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