Akhilesh K Prasad
The Gujarat assembly elections have perhaps been an eye-opener for Modi government. The BJP may have been able to scrape through, but not without jitters. In rural Gujarat and especially in Saurashtra, the vote of the farming community clearly went against the ruling party. Thereafter, the writing has been on the wall for Modi government.
Budget 2018 has been on expected lines in so much as it focuses much on rural India, where despite urban migration, 68.84% of the Indian populace still lives. It prioritized issues and schemes related to women, farmers, youth, poor, and disadvantaged communities.
The Finance Minister announced the National Health Protection Scheme that aims to cover 100 million poor families and thus reach out to almost 500 million beneficiaries, to provide them benefits of up to Rs. 5 lakh per family per year. Dubbed as Modicare, the scheme is touted to be the biggest government funded healthcare initiative in the world.
One medical college to be established in every three parliamentary constituencies were also announced, to provide better health facilities. The budget also aims to provide better livelihood and infrastructure for rural areas with an allocation of Rs. 14.34 trillion.
As an anti-dote to farmer distress, the government has decided to increase the minimum support price (MSP) of all Kharif crops 50% of existing prices. The government will also launch Operation Green with a fund of Rs. 500 crore to boost the production of tomatoes, onions and potatoes, and thus double farmer income by 2022.
For the poor and middle-class, the budget aims to increase the outreach of Ujjwala scheme to 80 million more women, Saubhagya to 40 million families and to build 20 million more toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
However, while the announcements may sound populist and pleasing to the ear, the strangest part of Budget 2018 is that many of those schemes do not have a budgetary allocation. For example, the two most populist schemes, 50% increase in MSP and Modicare have no budgetary allocation. In fact the Finance Minister claims that the MSP is already 50% higher. But this MSP has been calculated on the basis of A2+ FL cost (actual cost + implied value of family members working in the farm) whereas farmers have been demanding a hike in the C2 cost (A2 +FL + rent and interest on owned land and capital assets).
Similarly, while the Finance Minister had announced a fund of Rs. 10000 crore for the development of infrastructure of fisheries and animal husbandry, only Rs. 10 crores were allocated to it in this budget. The budget document also does not reflect any allocation to the announced Agri-Market Infrastructure Fund that was supposed to have a corpus of Rs. 2,000 crores to develop and upgrade infrastructure in 22,000 Gramin Agricultural Markets, and 585 state-run Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee markets.
While the budgetary allocation for the three main departments of the Agriculture Ministry has increased by 14.6% against a 10.12% increase in the overall size of the budget, non-allocation of funds to the otherwise important announcements has made this budget appear more like a populist election manifesto.