Friday, June 9, 2023

Committed to Rural Development 


By Satish Singh

To ensure the inclusive development of the country, there is a need to strengthen the agriculture and allied sector, because the contribution of agriculture and allied sector in the Indian economy is continuously decreasing, whereas in the Corona period, the contribution of agriculture sector was better than other sectors. Due to the better performance of agriculture sector, the condition of the Indian economy did not deteriorate much. In the year 1951, agriculture contributed about 52 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which decreased to 14.8 percent in the year 2020. However, agriculture and allied sectors remain the source of livelihood for 58 percent of India’s population.

In the country, along with agriculture, allied sectors like animal husbandry, horticulture, poultry, fisheries, forestry, sericulture, duck farming, etc. have an important contribution in strengthening the rural economy. Apart from this, the work of strengthening the rural economy is also being done by the micro, small and medium industries, and the service sector. It is estimated that the share of agriculture and allied sector in the rural economy is 50 percent, and the remaining 50 percent is contributed by industries and services sector.

Under the provisions of the budget for the financial year 2022-23, Indian Railways will develop new products and freight services to serve small farmers and medium enterprises, so that it is easy to move agricultural products from one place to another. And so that farmers can get a fair price for their products.

A Rs.44,000-crore project has been announced in the budget to interlink Ken-Betwa River, which will irrigate about 9 lakh hectares of land and provide drinking water to 62 lakh people. Also, 103 MW hydro power and 27 MW solar power can be produced. The amount of Minimum Support Price (MSP) will now be deposited directly in the account of farmers, so that farmers will not have to pay levy to middlemen. 100 Gati Shakti Cargo Terminals will be built in rural areas. Along with this, road, transport, logistic infrastructure will also be expanded in rural areas under PM Gati Shakti Yojana.

The budget proposes to build 80 lakh houses for urban and rural people, which is likely to boost demand and supply in rural areas and boost employment generation. Organic farming will be done on farmers’ land in 5 km wide corridors along the banks of the Ganges. With the help of the government, the production of chemical-free crops is expected to increase. To encourage this, the government will adopt the PPP model. The central government will encourage farmers to adopt new technologies to ensure adequate yields and will work to bring improved varieties of crops, fruits, and vegetables for the farmers.

The government will encourage the use of drones for sowing crops, assessing health of crops, digitization of land records, spraying pesticides and nutrients in the fields, as India is the second largest country in the world in terms of population and by area Seventh largest country. In such a situation, providing food security to such a large population is a very challenging task. Therefore, it is necessary that instead of traditional farming, farming should be done with the help of latest technology. Farmers are also suffering due to rising cost of cultivation and natural calamities. In such a situation, by using drone technology, farmers can increase their income by saving cost and time. The traditional method of spraying pesticides also adversely affects the health of the farmers. Today drones are being used for agriculture in many countries including America, Australia, Israel. Artificial intelligence technology is also used in drones. This will enable monitoring of crop quality and assessment of crop production. However, at present, it is not possible to use it by all the farmers, as its cost is high. At present, the cost of a 10-litre capacity drone is between Rs.6 to 10 lakh and farmers will have to take the training of a drone pilot to fly the drone. Drones can only be flown by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) certified pilots. There are currently 40 schools in India providing training for drone pilots, which are affiliated to DGCA. As per the current demand for drones, there is a shortage of more than 1,000 drone pilots in the country. The demand for drones in India has increased 15 times within the last one year. The drone industry is currently around Rs.5,000 crore. The government estimates that it will be an industry of 15 to 20 thousand crores in 5 years. The government is continuously easing the rules to promote its use, which is likely to increase employment. According to an estimate, about 10,000 new jobs can be created in this sector within 3 years.

The budget proposes to finance farmers through NABARD under co-investment model. It will be used to provide financial assistance to those start-ups, which will work for agriculture and rural development. By the way, FPOs are still being supported through start-ups, small farmers are being provided with farm equipment and IT based services are being provided to the farmers. However, the number of such start-ups is still small.

Today stubble has become a big problem for the farmers. Therefore, out of the total fuel used in thermal power plants, 5 to 7 percent of agricultural residues will be used. This will reduce the incidence of crop residue burning. The year 2023 has been declared as the Year of Nutritious Cereals. To promote the production of coarse cereals in the country, the central government will assist to increase its post-harvest storage and consumption. Also, the government will brand the products made from coarse cereals at the national and international level.

The central government will also encourage the state governments to make changes in their agricultural universities, so that students and farmers can be trained in zero budget and organic farming, modern agriculture and value addition and agricultural management. To promote Agro-Fforestry and private forestry, the government will make schemes and provide financial assistance to the farmers belonging to the scheduled castes and tribes to adopt it.

The government is working continuously to strengthen the rural economy. With the help of Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, the government is already working to invest in 14 important sectors. It has been announced to extend the Emergency Credit Line Guarantee Scheme (ECLGS) till March 2023. As per the budget provisions, the ECLGS guarantee cover has been increased to Rs 5 lakh crore, out of which a provision of Rs 50,000 crore has been made for the hospitality sector. According to the finance minister, more than 130 lakh MSMEs have been given loans through ECLGS during the Corona period, which has helped them to save their existence during the pandemic. Due to the implementation of ECLGS scheme, 13.5 lakh MSME accounts have been saved from becoming NPA. If these accounts were NPA, then the jobs of 1.5 crore people would have been lost and the livelihood of about 6 crore people would also be affected.

The budget also talked about reviving the Credit Guarantee Trust for Micro and Small Enterprises (CGTMSE) scheme. With this, an additional loan of Rs 2 lakh crore to micro and small enterprises will be available to the MSME sector, which will accelerate employment generation. The finance minister has announced an expenditure of Rs 6,000 crore in the budget, which will help the MSME sector to become more resilient, competitive, and efficient.

It can be said that even though the common people do not seem to be benefiting from the latest budget proposals immediately, but in the coming months or years, their benefits will definitely be visible in the rural areas.

(Author is Chief Manager at State Bank of India, Mumbai. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].)

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