Agriculture, rural economy to get a big boost

Finance minister Arun Jaitley today announced a slew of new schemes and measures aimed at doubling farmers' incomes by 2022, including  raising minimum support price (MSP) on kharif cropes excluded in the previous revision by at least one and a half times their cost of production.

Announcing the Union Budget for 2018-19 finance minister Arun Jaitley said the volume of institutional credit for agriculture sector increased from Rs8,50,000 crore in 2014-15 to Rs10,00,000 crore in 2017-18 and he proposed to raise this to Rs11,00,000 crore for the year 2018-19.

Jaitley also announced the creation of a Fisheries and Aqua culture Infrastructure Development Fund and an Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund on the lines of the Dairy Infrastructure Fund.

He also announced the setting up of an 'Opertion Greens' fund with a total corpus of Rs500 crore to address the challenge of price volatility of perishable commodities like tomato, onion and potato.

He also announced to develop and upgrade existing 22,000 rural haats into Gramin Agricultural Markets (GrAMs) to take care of the interests of more than 86 per cent small and marginal farmers. These GrAMs, electronically linked to e-NAM and exempted from regulations of APMCs, will provide farmers facility to make direct sale to consumers and bulk purchasers. Moreover, an Agri-Market Infrastructure Fund with a corpus of Rs2,000 crore will be set up for developing and upgrading agricultural marketing infrastructure in the 22,000 Grameen Agricultural Markets (GrAMs) and 585 APMCs. He said, so far 470 APMCs have been connected to e-NAM network and rest will be connected by March 2018.

Jaitley announced Rs200 crore allocation for organised cultivation of highly specialized medicinal and aromatic plants and said that the organic farming by Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) and Village Producers' Organisations (VPOs) in large clusters, preferably of 1,000 hectares each will be encouraged.

Similarly, allocation for the ministry of food processing has been doubled from Rs715 crore in 2017-18 to Rs1,400 crore in 2018-19. Terming Bamboo ''Green Gold?, the finance minister announced a re-structured National Bamboo Mission with an outlay of Rs1,290 crore to promote bamboo sector in a holistic manner.

Under Prime Minister Krishi Sinchai Yojna-Har Khet ko Pani, 96 deprived irrigation districts will be taken up with an allocation of Rs2,600 crore.

Jaitley said the centre will work with state governments to facilitate farmers for installing solar water pumps to irrigate their fields. He also proposed to extend the facility of Kisan Credit Cards to fisheries and animal husbandry farmers to help them meet their working capital needs. Jaitley said India?s agri-exports potential is as high as $100 billion against current exports of $30 billion and to realise this potential, export of agri-commodities will be liberalised. He also proposed to set up state-of-the-art testing facilities in all the 42 Mega Food Parks. He also announced a special scheme to support the efforts of the governments of Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and the NCT of Delhi to address air pollution in the Delhi-NCR region by subsidising machinery required for in-situ management of crop residue.

On the loans to Self Help Groups of women, the finance minister said it increased to about Rs42,500 crore in 2016-17, growing 37 per cent over the previous year and expressed confidence that loans to SHGs will increase to Rs75,000 crore by March 2019. He also substantially increased allocation of National Rural Livelihood Mission to Rs5,750 crore in 2018-19.

Referring to the measures taken for the benefit of lower and middle class, the finance minister said, under Ujjwala Scheme distribution of free LPG connections will be given to 80 million poor women instead of the previous target of 50 million women. Under Saubahagya Yojana, 40 million poor households are being provided with electricity connection with an outlay of Rs16,000 crore.

To fulfil target of housing for all by 2022 , more than one crore houses will be built by 2019 in rural areas. Besides 60 million toilets have already been constructed 6 under the Swachh Bharat Mission.

Jaitley stressed that the focus of the government next year will be on providing maximum livelihood opportunities in the rural areas by spending more on livelihood, agriculture and allied activities and construction of rural infrastructure. He said, in the year 2018-19, for

creation of livelihood and infrastructure in rural areas, total amount to be spent by the ministries will be Rs14,34,000 crore, including extra-budgetary and non-budgetary resources of Rs11,98,000 crore. Apart from employment due to farming activities and self employment, this expenditure will create employment of 3.21 billion person days, 3.17 lakh kilometers of rural roads, 5.1 million new rural houses, 18.8 million toilets, and provide 17.5 million new household electric connections besides boosting agricultural growth.