2018-19 budget may focus on rural areas

With polls lined up in the coming year, farming sector expected to get fair deal

December 21, 2017 10:14 pm | Updated 10:14 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Wary of wrath:  The government can’t afford farmers’ anger and will focus on the farm sector, said an official.

Wary of wrath: The government can’t afford farmers’ anger and will focus on the farm sector, said an official.

India’s government will likely increase funding for the farm and rural sectors in the budget for the coming fiscal year, finance ministry officials said, to shore up political support in the countryside ahead of a raft of elections.

“The next budget will focus on farmers, rural jobs and infrastructure while making all attempts to follow a fiscal prudence path,” a senior finance ministry official told Reuters .

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government won an election in his home state of Gujarat this week, but only just as it faced discontent fuelled by falling farm incomes and a lack of jobs.

In 2018 and early 2019, there will be eight state elections in the heartland, leading up to a national election in 2019.

On February 1, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is expected to present his last full-year budget, for the 2018/19 year that begins April 1.

Annual farm growth dipped to 1.7% in the three months ending September, mainly on lower prices and output, while economic growth accelerated to 6.3% after growing at a three-year low of 5.7% in the previous quarter.

“The government can’t afford farmers’ anger any more, and will try to boost the economic growth and pump in more funds in the farm sector,” the official said. “It will not be a populist but a pragmatic budget.”

Jaitley has signalled that his priority will be allocating more funds for rural and infrastructure sectors.

‘Populist’ budget

Modi has indicated that he would like to achieve 7.5% to 8% annual economic growth before entering the election campaign, said another official.

An aide to Modi said, “Every attempt is being made to make it a populist budget.”

Higher procurement prices for different crops could be offered to farmers following lower output this year. There will be tax reforms, the aide said, referring to corporate demand to lower tax rates.

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