“If agriculture fails, the country fails”; the 2019 Budget fails to address the people’s problems

The “election Budget” is more about spectacles than solving problems.

Piyush Goyal, the acting Finance Minister, on the day of the Budget speech. |BW Businessworld

CHENNAI: Acting Finance Minister Piyush Goyal presented the interim Budget on February 1, 2019. Many, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, termed it as an election Budget. However, the public does not seem too enthusiastic about it.


The Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi(PM KISAN) was one of the major announcements.Under this scheme,farmers with landholdings upto two hectares will receive Rs 6,000 annually as income support.

Dr. N Parasuraman, Principal Scientist at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation(MSSRF), says, “PM KISAN is insufficient.Rs 6,000 won’t do much for the farmers.Still, the farmers will get something. I don’t want to express any opinion about the election aspect, but any relief measure for the farmers is welcome.”

He stresses the need for linking agriculture with job security. “This Government promised a lot. It said it will double farmers’ income by 2022. For that,agriculture needs a business model. Everybody thinks that agriculture is only about food production, but it also includes organic farming,food processing,seed and fertilizer production. These are potential sources for job creation. Agriculture must give job security to the people. If it is made entrepreneurial, young people will also get involved. We have Right to Information, Right to Education, and we must also have Right to Job Security. India has one of the highest number of young people in the world.Agriculture should provide them employment.Ours is a country where,if agriculture fails, the country fails.”

Dr. Parasuraman says that different ministries and departments pertaining to agriculture should come together.” For example, the Food Corporation of India(FCI),Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, and the Ministry of Rural Development could be merged.”

He says that the allocation for MGNREGA should be increased as there are a lot of dues which are yet to be cleared. “There needs to be focus on nutrition literacy and making India malnutrition free. The Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations must be fully implemented,” he says.

Sreedharan, an employee at Khadi Bhavan,T Nagar,says,“The only thing that can be said about PM-KISAN is that it is better than nothing. It is insufficient. Moreover, with the corruption being rampant, how can one trust any claim made by the Government? Remember the 2G scam? How much money did the nation lose due to it? All politicians,irrespective of their affiliations, only exist for filling their own wallets.”

Nurul Amin,42,sells jewellery on the streets of the T Nagar market. He says,“As income support, the Budget provides Rs 6,000 to farmers with land holdings upto two hectares. That’s roughly Rs 17 a day. That’s less than even the price of a water bottle which typically costs Rs 20. A kg of rice costs about Rs 65. And there is also the expenditure for treatment and medicines.”

GST, Demonetisation and the 15 lakh jumla

Before GST, the cost price of these two pieces were Rs 78 and Rs 156. Post-GST, it became Rs 82 and Rs 162. Amin says that the selling price has remained the same:Rs 100 and Rs 200.He can’t sell at a higher rate because then no one will buy them.

“Moves like GST and demonetisation hurt the informal sector.Before GST, I had to earn Rs 3000 on a given day to make a profit of Rs 500. Now I must earn Rs 5000 to make the same profit. GST increased the cost price of items, but we don’t have the luxury of increasing the selling price. Moreover, ours is an economy heavily reliant on cash; it is baseless to say that it can be converted into a digital economy,” says Amin.

Abdul Qadir,57, who works as a cashier at a restaurant in T Nagar, says,“ Modi had announced that if he came to power he would put Rs 15 lakh into the bank account of each and every Indian.That was a lie.Now the prices of petrol and diesel are rising.Moreover, the value of $1 is almost Rs 73. Earlier it was about Rs 45.”

“Whatever little has been offered in the Budget has been done with the election in mind.Even then, in Tamil Nadu he will surely lose. He may get support in north India,” he says.

The “mega pension scheme”

In his speech, Goyal announced a contribution-based pension scheme called Pradhan Mantri Shram-Yogi Maandhan for workers in the unorganised sector.

Amin says,“Often pension schemes get discontinued. The first question is whether it will be properly implemented. And the second is whether it will be carried on. Even when old people do get pensions, they often have to go the bank time and again, which leads to travel expenditure.”

Qadir raises questions about the effectiveness of the scheme.“According to the pension scheme, workers will be eligible to get Rs 3,000 per month after the age of 60. But that’s almost the life expectancy of an average man. What would be the point of such ‘social security’? And what if the person dies before he turns 60 years old? Where will the money deposited by the person go?” asks Qadir

Foreign tours,black money and education

“So much for the show of love for the people, where was he(the Prime Minister) at the time of Cyclone Gaja? I don’t know if this is Sabka Sath Sabka Vikas. And what about the amount of money which is being spent on his foreign tours? What has been the outcome?” says Qadir.

About the education sector, Qadir said, “It was good for Tamil students so long as the entrance exams were being conducted at the state level. But since the advent of National Eligibility cum Entrance Test(NEET), students have been struggling.Those who score well in the board exams falter in the entrance test. One girl even commited suicide.”

He was probably referring to a 17-year-old,Anitha, who committed suicide in 2017.

To Sreedharan, the Government’s claims about reining in black money sound dubious.

“The Modi Government keeps claiming that it has got hold of a lot of black money. If so, then why doesn’t it come back to the people?” he asks.

Water crisis and the linking of rivers as a potential solution

Sreedharan supports interlinking of rivers as solution to the water crisis.“The State faces a severe water crisis every year. Even if it rains, most of the water goes to the sea. Those who have system for groundwater harvesting are able to save some water. But interlinking of rivers must be done. That way a lot of water could be saved and its availability maintained,” asks Sreedharan.

Lack of information about the Budget

Many people have not understood the details of the Budget. “I could express a view only if I knew about the Budget. For example, though the MUDRA Yojana was announced a long time ago, I came to know about it only last week through my brother, who is preparing for the civil service exams. I am thinking of a applying for a loan under the scheme. The plans of the Government, such as the details of the Budget must be made more accessible,” says Mohit, who is a snacks seller.