A Hazy Blueprint
Setting up a strong supply chain infrastructure for agri products, promoting startups for agri and rural enterprise and paving way for digital ecosystem and technological fillip are the three key points in Finance Minister Niramala Sitharaman’s budget speech that could take the agriculture sector to the next level.
Creation of supply chain infrastructure is very crucial for the agro producers. The goods transportation aspect in the ‘PM Gati Shakti’ scheme with components like Multimodal Logistic Parks, Unified Logistics Interface Platform (ULIP), one station-one product, railways developing new products and efficient logistics services for small farmers, will remove a major roadblock in faster movement of agri produce from farm to fork. This will help, not only the farmers, but the country as well, as faster transportation of agri products will considerably reduce food wastage, avoiding wastage of natural resources like water and soil health.
On the technological front, promoting the use of Kisan Drones for crop assessment, land records digitisation and spraying of insecticides will pave the way for further modernisation. A Ppp-based proposed scheme for delivery of digital and hi-tech services to farmers will expedite the process of modernisation.
In agri-tech space, startups have been acting as growth drivers with an estimated 1400 agri startups operating across India. The finance minister has acknowledged their contribution in the growth of the sector by announcing a fund creation scheme and tax concessions to promote them. A blended capital fund will be facilitated to finance startups relevant to the farm produce value chain. As a result, some more startups in agri areas can be expected. In case of the existing 3-year tax incentive scheme, the period of incorporation to avail the benefit has been extended by a year to March 31, 2023. This, no doubt, will give relief to several existing startups.
On the periphery of these three important steps are some other initiatives and proposals, including increasing domestic oilseeds production to minimise reliance on import. The Congress government during the Rajiv Gandhi regime had shown that it could be done by launching a technology mission. An equally important plan is to promote chemicalfree natural farming. It is very important from the sustainable agriculture perspective. The budget envisages promoting chemical-free natural farming throughout the country, beginning with a 5 km corridor along the river Ganga in the first stage.
Six river linking projects, encouraging states to revise syllabi of agriculture universities to make them more contemporary, and providing a comprehensive package with the states’ participation for farmers to adopt suitable varieties of fruits and vegetables and to use appropriate production and harvesting techniques are also important proposals the finance minister has suggested. River linking is important from the agriculture angle. One of them, Ken-betwa project, will help irrigate 9.08 lakh hectare farm land. However, it is surprising that the allocation on such an important project has been reduced from Rs 4,300 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 1,400 crore for the next year.
For the other five river link projects, Draft Detailed Project Reports (DPRS) are ready. On reaching a consensus among beneficiary states the government has planned to provide support for implementation.
However, the budget is silent on the financial details of how much the government intends to allocate in the next financial year as its contribution as a support. In fact, there is utter silence regarding financial allocations for various proposals made in the budget. It does not mention how much is set aside to promote oilseeds production, for chemical free natural farming, for blended capital funds for startups, and for developing the digital ecosystem.
In the absence of such important details, which must be an integral part of the budget speech, the finance minister’s budget proposals remain largely incoherent, without providing specifics of allocations.