Budget 2016: FM Arun Jaitley announces slew of measures to end rural distress

Farmers are expected to gain from investment in irrigation, agri-markets, dairies and a more transparent procurement of grain by official agencies, but experts said it may take time for these steps to end rural distress that has risen after the monsoon failed in the past two years.

Companies in the sector were upbeat about growth of output as well as rural demand, although farmers were circumspect after FM Arun Jaitley announced measures to help farmers double their incomes in the next five years.

The series of steps in the Budget, along with crop insurance schemes already announced and the high probability of good monsoon this year, are expected to help farmers ahead of crucial assembly elections, analysts said.

Kwality chairman RS Khanna found many reasons to cheer. "First is the government's initiative towards doubling farmer income, second is the much-required connectivity from farm to market, third is the 100% electricity by 2018 and most important, the investment in animal husbandry, livestock breeding and cattle," he said.

Dhanuka Agritech managing director MK Dhanuka said the sector will gain from 28.5 lakh hectares to be brought under irrigation and 23 projects to be completed by March 2017. "The launch of e-platform for marketing will enable the farmer to get the right price for his crop," he said.

However, farmers wanted more clarity. "The government has finally realised the extent of rural distress, but this ruralcentric budget should not be expected to end the distress soon," said Ajay Vir Jakhar, chairman of Bharat Krishak Samaj, a farmers' association.

Air Deccan founder captain GR Gopinath, who is now involved in farming, said bolder steps could have been taken. "Fertiliser subsidy should have been transferred through direct transfer to farmers holding 5 acres and less, and fertiliser subsidies to corporates and cooperatives should be eliminated," he said.

Some experts said farmers, who had seen three crops damaged by bad weather, needed immediate relief. "Over the next one month, farmers will not get any benefit when they start harvesting crop or when they go for planting operation of summer crops," said Sudhir Panwar, president of the Kisan Jagriti Manch.

The decentralisation of the procurement policy of grains, online purchases by the Food Corporation of India and procurement of pulses with enhanced allocation were welcome steps, said Sukhpal Singh, a professor at the Centre for Management in Agriculture at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

Food analyst Devender Sharma asked why farmers should wait for five years to double their income. "At present, average income of a farmer in 17 states is just Rs 1,700 per month. Why can't we give him an economic bailout?" he asked.

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