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Agriculture & Social sectors: No breaking away from the past

Slew of monetary allocations show no clear shift in strategy

BS Reporter 

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley peppered his long speech with announcements of 28 schemes and projects of Rs 100 crore each. This suggests the National Democratic Alliance had grafted a social and agriculture agenda different from the United Progressive Alliance's.

However, it was a relatively low-cost trick to dazzle and distract in a year when fiscal constraints remain as worrisome. The Narendra Modi government largely continued with the social programmes from the previous decade and a half. None of the schemes from the UPA's 10 years or, for that matter, from the previous NDA regime, saw any abrupt increase or cuts.

Jaitley did remember not to spend too much time on the UPA schemes. He also didn't point out that eastern Uttar Pradesh would now get a new All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and not Sonia Gandhi's pocket borough of Rae Bareli. And, he did get a thumping support from his party's benches for raising agriculture credit support to Rs 8 lakh crore.

The Mahatama Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme saw an increase of exactly Rs 1,000 crore over last year's budgeted allocation of Rs 33,000 crore. Which shows the government is not yet thinking of deploying it to meet any increase in demand arising out of a highly-likely drought. For the national food security law and overall food subsidy, the minister allocated Rs 115,000 crore - exactly what P Chidambram had done in his interim budget for the year, then promising to increase it as the law got implemented. Jaitley chose not to increase it, though the law has been since implemented in some states, the deadline for others is looming on the horizon and so is the drought.

Other schemes of rural development, women and child development and the human resource development ministry continued to get fiscal support, with marginal increases in some cases.

The big-ticket poll commitment of universal health care found mention in the speech but was not backed by any substantial jump or changed allocations. The overall health ministry budget went from Rs 33,278 crore to Rs 34,663 crore, with no sub-head for the free diagnostics or free drug schemes Jaitley mentioned. Experts said it was perhaps too early to see a revamp, with the government having got only 45 days to stitch the Budget. The minister did announce four more AIIMS this year, where the UPA had planned two, earmarking Rs 500 crore against these.

The women and child development ministry got a 3.1 per cent marginal increase over its previous year's budgeted amount of Rs 20,440 crore, though the future of its Nirbhaya Fund (for women's security) remained unclear. The finance minister allocated Rs 200 crore for women safety projects from the Rs 2,000 crore fund - the same as for the Sardar Patel statue in Gujarat, which is yet to get environmental clearance.

Environment as a whole got conflated with the river Ganga, which got an umambitious Rs 2,037 for cleaning it up. But more than double the money was provided for inland transport on the river, pegged at Rs 4,200 crore. There were some sops for large solar energy projects and the wind power sector, and doubling of the clean energy cess on coal and lignite.

The agriculture sector got a somewhat better deal compared to the social sector. A Rs 500 crore price stabilisation fund to tackle rising food prices was one. A Rs 1,000-crore Pradhan Mantri Gram Sinchayee Yojana to augment irrigation supplies was announced and so was Rs 100 crore for a Kisan TV channel. Research got a fillip, not agricultural extension - Rs 200 crore for agriculture universities in AP and Rajasthan, and horticulture universities in Haryana and Telangana. Soil health cards got support and so did organic agriculture in the northeast.

While announcing the intent to reform the agricultural produce market, Jaitley also gave Rs 200 crore for setting up 2,000 producers' organisations across the country and finance for 500,000 joint farming groups of the landless through the apex rural bank, Nabard. He also proposed to set up a Long Term Rural Credit Fund of Rs 5,000 crore and the Short Term Cooperative Rural Credit Refinance Fund was increased to Rs 50,000 crore.

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First Published: Fri, July 11 2014. 00:37 IST