The Union Budget, presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman here on Wednesday, announced a number of measures for the agriculture sector, including an increase in the credit target to ₹20 lakh crore, with focus on animal husbandry, dairy and fisheries. The allocations for the sector, such as the food subsidy, however, saw a drastic fall inviting criticism from farmers’ organisations.
The Finance Minister introduced a “digital public infrastructure for agriculture” in the Budget. Ms. Sitharaman said it would be built as an open source, open standard and inter-operable public good. “This will enable inclusive, farmer-centric solutions through relevant information services for crop planning and health, improved access to farm inputs, credit, and insurance, help for crop estimation, market intelligence, and support for growth of agri-tech industry and start-ups,” she added.
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Another step, the ‘Agriculture Accelerator Fund’, she said, will encourage agri start-ups by young entrepreneurs in rural areas. “The fund will aim at bringing innovative and affordable solutions for challenges faced by farmers. It will also bring in modern technologies to transform agricultural practices, increase productivity and profitability,” Ms. Sitharaman said.
The allocation for the Department for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare was ₹1,24,000 in the last Budget estimate, but ₹1,15,531.79 crore this time, a decrease of about ₹8,469 crore. Though the Economic Survey suggested shifting crop patterns due to unexpected climatic conditions, the allocation for the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana decreased from ₹15,500 crore in the last Budget’s estimates to ₹13,625 crore in this Budget. The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-Kisan) saw an allocation of ₹60,000 crore, a decrease of ₹8,000 crore compared with the last Budget. Allocation for the Department of Agricultural Research and Education has been increased by about ₹1,000 crore.
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The Market Intervention Scheme and Price Support Scheme, which got ₹1,500 crore in the last Budget, was given just rupees one lakh in this budget. There is an increase of ₹455 crore in the allocation for the formation and promotion of 10,000 farmer producer organisations.
The total food subsidy has decreased from ₹2,06,831.09 crore in 2022-23 to ₹1,97,350 crore in this Budget. In the revised estimates of 2022-23, the food subsidy was ₹2,87,194.05 crore. The fertilizer subsidy considerably increased when compared to the last Budget. In the last Budget, it was ₹1,05,262.23 crore, but in the revised estimate, it was ₹2,25,261.62 crore, mainly due to the increase in the prices of fertilizers and components due to the war in Ukraine. In this Budget, the estimated figure is ₹1,75,148.48 crore.
The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) said the narrative built around free ration allocation under the Pradhan Mantri Gareeb Kalyan Yojana replacing the pandemic time additional foodgrain scheme, in actual is a farce given the decrease in allocation to the food subsidy. “The clear intention is to reduce spending on food security and the Public Distribution System. The reduced food subsidy bill has direct consequences for procurement of foodgrains,” the AIKS said.