The Modi government may claim it is doing the utmost for farmers, but the community doesn’t seem impressed with the announcements made by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for the agriculture sector during her Union Budget speech on Monday (February 1).
Union Budget highlights for the agriculture sector:
· About 43.36 lakh wheat-growing farmers benefited from the government procurement under minimum support price (MSP) as against 35.57 lakh previously. “Farmers paid Rs 75,100 crore on wheat MSP in FY21,” the FM said.
· Agriculture credit target raised to Rs 16.5 lakh crore in 2021-22. “Agri infra fund would be made available to APMCs to augment infrastructure facilities,” said the finance minister.
· Agri Infra Fund has been increased to Rs 40,000 crore, Micro Irrigation Corpus doubled to Rs 10,000 crore.
· The Finance Minister emphasized on the need to improve agricultural infrastructure so that we produce more, while also conserving and processing agricultural output efficiently.
· Sitharaman proposed an Agriculture Infrastructure and Development Cess (AIDC) on a small number of items. She said that while applying the cess, care has been taken not to put additional burden on consumers.
Farmers express disappointment
Labh Singh, a farmer based out of Ludhiana in Punjab, told ‘The Federal’ they had planned a foot march to Parliament on the Budget day, but cancelled it after the January 26 violence. “The sole purpose to hold a sit-in protest at Parliament was to make the government listen to us. We are sitting on a protest for more than 60 days in Delhi, but the government is not listening to us,” said Labh Singh.
“The Budget proves that the government is listening to us but ignoring us. They gave nothing to offer the farmers. They just used big numbers to show they are better than the Congress regime when it comes to providing MSP,” he added.
Devinder Singh, another farmer, said the Budget brought out the government’s hypocrisy. “On one hand they say that income of farmers has increased 1.5 times and they have paid record-breaking minimum support price (MSP). On the other hand, they bring in these farm laws with a purported objective to double farmers’ income. What is the need for bringing new laws if the farmers’ income has already increased 1.5 times?” Devinder Singh asked.
“In Punjab, the MSP of wheat in 2013 was Rs 1,885 and now it is Rs 1,950. But in 2013, diesel price was Rs 60 a litre and now it is Rs 80 a litre. It needs more than 100 litres of diesel per acre every season to harvest a crop. So, our diesel cost increased from Rs 6,000 to Rs 8,000 directly – a jump of 33 percent. Similarly, the prices of seeds, manure and pesticides too have gone up. In contrast, the increase in MSP between 2013 and 2021 is less than 5 percent. However, our finance minister proudly says they have increased our MSP 1.5 times of the cost of production. Actually, our cost of production has increased and profit has decreased since 2013,” said Devinder Singh.
Joginder Singh, a farmer based out of Amritsar in Punjab, said, “The government showed big numbers on minimum support price (MSP) offered on wheat and rice, but what about other crops?”
“Economists have been constantly saying that farmers need to get out of the monoculture of wheat and rice, but how can they when the government pays for wheat and rice only. Where will the farmers go?” Joginder Singh added.
“Only 6 percent of the Indian farmers get MSP that too on 23 crops only. Out of those 23 crops, wheat and rice take the lion’s share. So I don’t know whatever big numbers Ms Sitharaman is talking about? If the government wants us to diversify crops, it should start giving good MSP on all crops, give subsidies on diesel and agri products, but they just ignore our demands.”
Another farmer, Harpreet Singh, said the budget will only benefit big companies. “We have seen that the government has planned disinvestment of banks and companies. So it is evident that they want to give everything to the private sector including electricity, roadways and agriculture. The government has also introduced an agri cess, which will only help prepare the ground for the entry of Ambani and Adani.”
“Also, the government played smart. All middle class, salaried people in the country are abusing us right now. Since the government brought a tax in the name of agriculture (agri cess), people would think that it is because of us they will end up paying more. This is just to change the sentiments of the public against us,” he added.