Editorial Articles

Volume-10, 9-15 June, 2018


Measures to Boost Agriculture and Rural Sector

Gargi Parsai

Doubling farmers income and raising the standard of life for the poor is the declared intent of Narendra Modi government that came to power in May 2014 and all its initiatives in the agriculture and rural sector are woven around these themes. The target year is 2022 because that is when the nation celebrates the 75th anniversary of India's independence from colonial rule and in effect, also because that would be the time required for things to take off the ground especially as implementation of most schemes and programmes is in the hands of state governments.

As a result, in the initial drought years of 2014 and 2015, the farming sector appeared to be in disarray. The government was able to press forward  its reforms-oriented, ambitious schemes such as linking mandis to national e-markets, neem-coated urea, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, Soil Health Cards, Kisan Credit Cards in poultry and dairy sector, PM Krishi Sinchai Yojana,  Farmer Producer Organisations, Ujjwala Yojana, complete rural electrification and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan while keeping active the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the National Food Security Act (NFSA).

Most of the schemes including food subsidy, gas subsidy, pension for widows and other payments are increasingly being linked through Direct Benefit Transfer to the zero-balance Jan Dhan Yojana accounts. Women are kept at the centre of financial inclusion schemes.  As against earlier years when social welfare schemes were targeted, the Modi government went for `Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas'.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in 2016 the government's ambitious programme of doubling farmers income by 2022-23. In April 2016, the government constituted a committee headed by Additional Secretary Ashok Dalwai to suggest a road-map for doubling farmers income. While the National Sample Survey Office's study in 2012-13 had found an average  farmer household's monthly income to be around Rs 6498 per month, the Dalwai panel computed it to be an estimated Rs 8,058 per month in 2015-16 and recommended that national average incomes of farmers should grow at an estimated 10.4 per cent to double incomes in the next seven years.

At a conference organised by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare earlier on `Agriculture 2022-Doubling Farmers Income', Mr Modi shared his strategy. The steps enumerated by him were: how to

decrease the cost of cultivation for farmers through use of soil health cards and neem-coated urea;  increase the minimum support price through cost plus 50 per cent hike formula, reforming agri-markets and 2200 gramin haats;  reducing post-harvest wastages through proper storage, logistics, food processing, and implementing Operation Greens-TOP (tomatoes, onions and potatoes); and to provide supplementary income to farmers through diversification into blue, organic, sweet revolution. Value addition and food processing has also become a recent focus.

While reinforcing the concept of ``per drop, more crop", Mr Modi said the government was focused on completing irrigation projects to help farmers reduce their cost of production. The plan is to complete 99 irrigation projects on time for which the government has made a provision for additional Rs 80,000 crore.

Because of the soil health card, the usage of chemical fertilizers had decreased by 8-10 per cent, while production had gone up by 5-6 per cent.

The budgetary allocation to the sector has been enhanced almost 75 per cent to more than Rs 2,11694 crore in the last four years. In addition two corpus funds of Rs. 5,000 crore for micro irrigation and Rs. 10,881 crore for the Dairy Processing and Infrastructure Fund (DIDF) have been created for the years 2017-20.

Apart from this, the Fishery and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund and Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund amounting to Rs. 10,000 crore and an agriculture market development fund amounting to Rs. 2000 crore have been announced in the budget 2018-19.

The government has increased the amount of institutional loan available to farmers from Rs 8 lakh crore to Rs 11 lakh crore in the past three years. Under a new GrAM project, farmers will be connected to markets with 2200 'Gramin Haats' getting a proper infrastructural upgrade. Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees and e-Nam will be integrated with it.

It must be understood that with half of the country's population dependent on agriculture and allied activities in rural India, India's economy is closely linked to the farm sector and with 60 per cent of the agriculture being rain-fed, the growth in the sector is highly dependent on monsoon.

In the first two years of its rule in 2014 and 2015, the  government was faced with deficient monsoon and lowered kharif output. But by the fourth year, i.e. 2017-18, as the southwest monsoon normalised, the foodgrains production levels rose dramatically and the 2nd advance estimates of production of major crops for 2017-18 released recently expect foodgrains production to be  279.51 million tonnes, which is a record. Of this wheat output is likely to be 98.61 million tonnes and rice is expected to be 111.52 million tonnes. The production of coarse cereals at 44.87 million tonnes and that of pulses at 24.51 million tonnes is also the highest ever. Farm and allied sector growth that was stagnant at 3.2 or lower per cent from 1991-92 to 2013-14 is estimated to be 4.1 per cent for 2016-17.

The biggest success of the Modi government in the farm sector in the last two years has been the dramatic rise in the production of pulses. When the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government took over from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2014, the output of pulses was 19.25 million tonnes. In the previous year (2012-13) it was even lower at 18.34 million tonnes when prices of tur, chana and moong had touched Rs 180 to Rs 200 per kilogram triggering large-scale imports. The Modi government constituted a Mission for Pulses and created a buffer stock which was steadily raised from 1.5 lakh tonnes to 20 lakh tonnes. By 2017-18, with a record production, the government lifted the export ban and introduced quantitative restriction on imports to augment domestic supplies. It is now set out to achieve a similar strategy in edible oilseeds, the large-scale import of which is a drag on the foreign exchange.

In the Budget 2018, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley proposed to increase the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for forthcoming kharif crop to one-and-a-half times of the production cost to enable farmers to pay off loans and have additional income in hand.

Several state governments including Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka have announced limited loan waivers for small and marginal farmers. In addition, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana governments have launched a scheme, wherein the differential between the price paid to farmers and the MSP is paid up. The Central Government too intervenes in the market when prices of perishables fall in the market to buy the surplus produce from farmers. 

Be that as it may, timely announcement of income-oriented minimum support price (MSP) of 23 commodities grown during rabi and kharif season, procurement centres to buy harvested crop at notified MSP, quick and direct payments, stopping wastage of post-harvest crop and perishables, storage of cereals and providing reliable markets and a stable export and import policy are the key to raising farmers' income.

In the rural development sector the government has tried to improve infrastructure, improve road connectivity, drinking water and sanitation and toilets and rural electrification by taking a panchayat approach.

Therefore, under the Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, 16850 villages in 484 districts will be saturated under seven schemes including the Ujjwala Yojana for providing free LPG connections to women from Below Poverty Line Populations. So far 3.78 crore new connections have been given of which 44 per cent went to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe women. Saubhagya Bijli Yojana, Ujala Scheme, Prime Minister's Jan Dhan Yojana (under which 31.52 crore zero balance accounts have been opened), Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana,(5.22 crore people provided with life insurance cover at Rs 330 per annum premium), Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana which covers accidental deaths (25 lakh people insured with premium of Rs 12 per annum)  and Mission Indradhanush.

As in agriculture, the rural development expenditure was enhanced by nearly 62 per cent from Rs 59630 in 2013-14 to Rs 95099 in 2016-17 for ``poverty-free gram panchayats''. In 2017-18, the Ministry targets an expenditure of Rs 1,05,448 crore.

Between 2014 and 2017, about 813.76 crore person days employment were generated under Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and MGNREGA. By 2019, one crore houses will be constructed under PM Awas Yojana while 2.41 crore households have been targeted for assistance. Under Awas Yojana, 32,14,506 houses were constructed during 2016-17. MGNREGA allocation raised from Rs 33,000 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 55,000 crore in 2018-19.Women participation was highest at 56 per cent in 2016-17.

Amongst government's strongest achievements in the rural sector are ensuring smoke-free cooking for rural women under Ujjwala Yojana by providing 3.8 crore poor women LPG connections. The target is 8 crore. Complete rural electrification of villages is another highlight.

The Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana boasts of enhancing rural roads connectivity from 56 per cent in 2014 to 82 per cent now. The average speed of road construction has gone up from 69 km per day in 2013-14 to 134 km per day.

Under Atal Pension Yojana for the unorganised sector, 80 lakh subscribers were enrolled and 2.23 lakh senior citizens have subscribed to Pradhan Mantri Vyaya Vandnana Yojana. Under the Direct Benefit Transfer, so far Rs 2,64,113 crore cash has been transferred to bank accounts for the 366 identified schemes. Under Pradhan Mantri Surakshit Matritva Abhiyan for ensuring good health of mother and child, more than 1.16 crore ante-natal check-ups have been done at over 12,900 health facilities. Above all, the funds availability through the Mudra bank has encouraged entrepreneurs to avail funds.

The rural sanitation programme reflects the true spirit of people's participation. As a programme it has been given high priority and since October 2014, 7.1 crore households toilets have been constructed. According to Rural Development Ministry officials, this means that rural sanitation coverage in India has more than doubled from 39 per cent in 2014 to over 83 per cent now.

Significantly, all the villages on the banks of river Ganga have been made Open Defecation Free under the Namami Gange Programme.

(The Author is a senior journalist, based in New Delhi. She  can be reached at E-mail: gargiparsai@yahoo.com)

Views expressed are personal.