With the Narendra Modi government’s last full-fledged Budget being completely bullish on agriculture with the aim of wooing the rural votebank, and with Lok Sabha elections just over a year away, the Prime Minister is due to preside over a high-level meeting on February 19 and 20 to chart a roadmap to implement major sops that finance minister Arun Jaitley announced for farmers.
Offering to double farmers’ incomes by 2020 and assuring them 50 per cent more than cost of production on the minimum support price (MSP) for kharif crops were the two key announcements in the Union Budget by the government. Sources said that the Centre was keen to implement these two promises at the earliest; thus a clear mechanism on how to do this is likely to be discussed at the meeting.
Highly-placed sources told this newspaper that in the course of the two-day meeting, top agriculture ministry officials as well as agri-scientists will hold deliberations on ways to implement these two Budget promises. It is possible that officials of agriculture departments from various states may also participate in the meeting.
The Prime Minister will attend the valedictory session on the second day and may address officials after listening to the presentations by participants on the agriculture-related announcements Budget, the sources added.
While political observers have called the Budget a major political exercise with an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the coming Assembly elections in politically crucial states later this year like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, there is concern within the bureaucracy on how these promises will be implemented.
Given this, the PMO has called the two-day meet as it is keen to implement these sops from the beginning of the coming financial year — 2018-19.
Some of the major announcements on agriculture in the Budget include farmers’ income to be doubled by 2020 as agriculture will be treated as an enterprise. The MSP for kharif crops will be 1.5 times the cost of production. If the crops are priced lower than MSP, the government will ensure farmers don’t face losses. They will be given the necessary MSP or an appropriate price.
Agri-exports will be liberalised, aiming to benefit pulses. Also, the government will conduct checks to ensure that 470 agricultural produce market committees (APMCs) are created and linked to the electronic platform of the National Agricultural Market (eNAM).
The Niti Aayog has been asked to explore the possibility of setting up an optimal farm price realisation system. Additionally, 22,000 new gramin agri centres (GRAMS) will be set up to assist farmers in selling their produce directly. Further, the Budget had said rs 2,000 crores will be set aside for realisation of an agricultural market fund.