No hike in Budget outlays for agriculture in 2 years; reduction in real terms; Irrigation given a bad miss
Headlines First . Funds for the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare have been cut to Rs 1.15 lakh crore in the Budget for 2023-24 from Rs 1.24 lakh crore in the Budget Estimates of 2022-23. Outlays in the real terms , after factoring in inflation, have been reduced in the last two years. The second headline : Irrigation, mainstay for agriculture, has been given a bad miss. Doubling farm income would naturally remain a distant dream!
Headlines First . Funds for the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare have been cut to Rs 1.15 lakh crore in the Budget for 2023-24 from Rs 1.24 lakh crore in the Budget Estimates of 2022-23. Outlays in the real terms , after factoring in inflation, have been reduced in the last two years. The second headline : Irrigation, mainstay for agriculture,has been given a bad miss. Doubling farm income would naturally remain a distant dream!.
There could be a justification for the cut in the outlay for the ministry which is tasked with ensuring growth of Indian agriculture and welfare of farmers. After all, against Rs 1.24 lakh crore provided in the financial year 2022-23 , the ministry is expected to spend far less money of Rs 1.10 lakh crore as per the Revised Estimates in the Union Budget. If the ministry is not able to spend or not disbursed as much as it was sanctioned, why not provide it lesser funds in relation to its spending track record, as seen in the Revised Estimates pegging the outlay at Rs 1.10 lakh crore.
Look at these numbers this way: The budget for the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare for 2023-24 is just about the same as was actually spent in 2021-22 (Rs 1.14 lakh crore); i.e two years back. In fact, if you factor in inflation , real amount ex-inflation, gets reduced by at least 10 per cent in the last two years by a conservative estimate.
As was the case in the previous Budget, there is hardly any fresh public investment in agriculture with the intent of increasing India's agri yield. The focus seems to be shifting towards post production marketing infrastructure, seeking to involve more of private capital in the form of logistics,data digitisation and distribution network. The post production infrastructure is of course important for providing better realisations to the farmers, but can we afford to sit back and relax as far our yields are concerned. Will the present rate of 3-4 per cent growth in agriculture provide us the kind of food security now that India is set to be the most populous nation of the world? Can we continue to draw comfort in the foodgrain production of 315 million tonnes and the fact we have become a net surplus country in foodgrains. The need of the hour is vision for the next 25 years. If there is one sector which needs an Amrit Kaal vision it is agriculture. Question is : Do we have it?
The following information was tabled in Parliament only a few months ago.Against total agricultural land of 1,80,888 thousand hectares, the cultivated land is 1,53,888 thousand hectare, out of which net 71,554 thousand hectares was irrigated. This means less than 40 per cent of India's agricultural land is covered under irrigation. Those of us who are acquainted with farming know how critical irrigation is for the crop yield. The areas bestowed with canals and those on the basins of the river easily get double or more the yield than the land deprived of irrigation.
Does the Budget or even the Economic Survey, which is supposed to be the vision document of the Chief Economic Adviser, for the government talk about investment in irrigation? Nopes, except for Rs 5300 crore for Upper Bhadra micro irrigation project in election-bound Karnataka. Cannot figure out from which allocation this money is to be provided for. The Jal Shakti Ministry's total outlay itself is Rs 4692 crore and the Land Resources Department of the Rural Development Ministry has been allocated just about Rs 2419 crore. The flagship Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) does not find any prominence in the Budget or Economic Survey.
Good old days, command area watershed programmes , major or minor irrigation programmes used to find prominence in the Budget speeches with sizable allocations. What you see in the Budget speech are: drones, startups, more crop per drop. Water conservation and technology related to the same is important but what Indian agriculture needs is a big vision that moves towards 100 per cent irrigation of the agriculture land. The marketing infrastructure is also key, but these initiatives are drops in the ocean of possibilities!
(Prakash Chawla is a New Delhi-based independent journalist)