The Union government might announce a 8-10 per cent increase in average wages under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Generation Act (MGNREGA) by linking these to an updated inflation index, the revamped consumer price index — agriculture labour (CPI-AL).
This is part of a government plan to consolidate existing welfare schemes for farmers such as PM-KISAN and MGNREGA. Sources in the government said it had decided to go for consolidation as it is reeling from dwindling resources.
Officials said in agriculture, the thrust would be on expanding the network of cold storages and warehouses by giving them some tax incentives or easy credit facilities. There could also be incentives to farmers to diversify from rice and wheat to more profitable crops.
To boost rural income, the government could raise the total MGNREGA Budget for 2020-21 to Rs 70,000 crore. In 2019-20 (FY20), it was Rs 60,000 crore.
This fiscal year, the rural development ministry has reportedly sought an extra Rs 20,000 crore for MGNREGA. Currently, the national average wage of an MGNREGA worker is Rs 178.44 per day — less than the minimum agriculture wage rate in several states.
Sources said after several round of discussions with industry experts, agriculturists and economists, a consensus seems to be building on enhancing the allocation for expediting setting up of 22,000 rural markets under the Gramin Agricultural Programme (GrAM) launched in 2018.
So far, officials said, the programme is financed through a Rs 2,000-crore dedicated agriculture infrastructure fund created in Nabard. But, it has been found to be inadequate to finance such a large programme.
“A separate budgetary allocation is needed to kickstart the scheme as the current model of a dedicated fund hasn’t exactly yielded desired results,” a senior official said.
He said besides GrAMs, some fund allocation is also expected for the Electronic National Agriculture Market (eNAM) scheme.
Under this, the Centre plans to link 1,000 markets through a common pan-Indian electronic trading portal. So far, over 500 mandis or APMC markets are trading online under eNAM.
Officials said there was also a proposal to create a dedicated fund for agriculture start-ups, so that they get a proper ecosystem to grow and develop.
“There is need to attract more private funds in the agriculture sector for which specific steps should be taken,” the official said.