MedhapatkarNational Alliance of People’s Movements

Government Running away from Responsibility: Pushing Farmers on edges
Overlooked the need of majority of population, catering to few
Political ‘Jumlas’ continues, ditching farmers once again under the garb of corporate regime; reduced responsibilities of public sector

In recent times, announcement of the Union budget seems to be becoming a futile exercise, even with all the publicity and hype associated with it. We say so, since the annual Union Budget has no more remained a final exercise of allocation of resources for various sectors and schemes, reflecting priorities of the debates that may occur at the Legislature. The party which has majority at the Parliamentary forum pushes its agenda when more than 121 Crores citizens remain on the periphery with neither any space nor a channel for participating in the Budget making process.

The pre-Budget consultations that we have been part of organised by the Finance ministry during the UPA Government was more a dialogue in democratic decency than with due primacy granted to the People’s organisations and non-electoral representatives and their views. In the present case, current Government is all out for impingement on the spaces of the Civil Society and of the movements critical of its corporate policies, there has been no scope provided for the organisations of Farmers, Labourers, Dalits and Adivasis who could press for their demands at the right point of time.

Once again the present government slapped the democracy and participatory development keeping farmers at bay and running away from the responsibility by an image makeover through projecting the budget 2016-17 as a pro-farmer budget, generous with words and stingy with funds.

The majority of population of India expected a required support from this year’s budget; they needed it because of unprecedented consecutive years of drought which accelerated the farmer’s suicide in absence of Govt. immediate support. It was expected because of Prime Minister’s consecutive three farmers’ rallies, announcing big support to them. But the budgetary allocation once again proved all the promises as ‘Jumlas’ only, which the present government keeps spreading time to time for electoral benefits.

The Budget speech promises ‘income security’ to the farming families, that the income of farming families will double in 5 years. But no mechanism has been announced to ensure this. Farmer’s organizations have called for a statutory, permanent Farmer’s Income Commission and Farmer’s Income Guarantee Act to assure the minimum living income to farming households.

Few Points to Expose the Priorities of Government and Their Claims of Pro-farmer Budget:

– When a majority of population almost 40-50% is reeling under drought, when thousands of farmers are committing suicide due to indebtedness, a major bailout package was expected from the government – which includes interest waiver, debt swapping of private loans with bank loans, and disaster compensation; the government has shown no political will to come to their rescue. [When the corporate sector was under stress in 2008-09, they got a Rs. 300,000 crores bailout package]

– No allocation to ensure remunerative prices to farmers, in terms of higher MSPs, Market Intervention Scheme or Market Stabilization Fund.

– While farmers demanded a disaster compensation of Rs. 10,000 per acre, no increase was announced from the current levels of Rs.3000-4000 per acre.

– While tenant farmers and sharecroppers are excluded from bank loans, insurance and subsidies, no measures were announced for their inclusion. There was no mention of Bhumiheen Kisan in the entire speech.

– No special measures for Rainfed Agriculture which faces the brunt of the crisis.

– Most of what the Budget speech projects as big favours to the farming community is actually “Business as usual” with a sleight of hand. The outlay of Rs. 35,984 crores to Agriculture is being projected as a major increase but in reality it is a pittance. In 2014-15, the outlay was Rs. 31,000 crores, which was drastically reduced to Rs. 24,910 crores in 2015-16, and now increased to Rs. 35,984 crores. Less than 3.5% of the entire Budget is going to Agriculture when 55% of India’s population depends on agriculture and in a year when farmers are facing their worst crisis.

– The flagship crop insurance programme, Prime Minister Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) is being projected as a panacea to farmers, and that more than 50% of the farmers will be brought under insurance cover from the current level of less than 20%. The allocation for insurance has been raised from Rs. 2600 crores to Rs. 5500 crores but this would not cover any additional farmers, because this would only go to the insurance companies towards higher premium subsidy for the existing insured farmers and to the IT companies for surveying the crop failure and other natural calamities to claim the insurance money, hence keeping out the Gram Panchayats in determining these facts at local level. The PMFBY also has many shortcomings which have been already pointed out by farmer organizations.

– The target of bringing additional 28.5 lakh hectares under irrigation in 5 years is to be welcomed – but this amounts to less than 2% of the net cultivated area of 141 million hectares. The allocation from the Centre is only Rs. 12,000 crores towards the Prime Minister Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY). In 2014-15, Rs. 13,492 crores was allotted for PMKSY but only Rs. 5630 crores were spent. Even after allocation and success of projects, the benefits have always remain in question, as in past, the projects started for catering to the needs of irrigation converted for the industrial demand of water supply. It has been seen in the famous Sardar Sarovar Dam Project, where after 30 years, 6 lakh hectares is decommissioned from irrigation to industries when less than 20% of the target of irrigation is realised at ground. It is also important to think that will it be realised with centralised irrigation system which enforce displacement of a large population to realise the targets? Or the govt. will think about decentralised irrigation system which proved to be pro-people as it also ensures that the benefits will not transfer to the industries after it starts for the agricultural need.

– When 40% of the nation is reeling under drought, a much higher allocation to MGNREGA was expected to the tune of Rs. 60,000 crores. The actual allocation is only Rs. 38,500 crores – which appears high only because of the drastic cuts in the past two years. This only brings it to the level of 2011-12 when the allocation was Rs. 39,000 crores. It is also important to note that when 7th pay commission recommended the hike; there has been no attention to the hike of wages under MGNREGA and other social welfare schemes. There has been no attention to the 93% of workforce working in unorganised and informal sector. The Govt. has denied the long standing demand of pension and other socio-economic securities of the larger workforce working in unorganised and informal sector.

– The allocation of Rs. 15,000 crores for interest subsidy is only a marginal increase over last year’s allocation of Rs. 13,000 crores. But there is no mechanism to ensure that this would go to small farmers and tenant farmers instead of corporate houses and absentee landlords.

Apart from above points:

– 0.013% of total budget has been allocated for farmers, which is only Rs. 700 for each farmer if we look at the population of farmers.

– There is no provision to bail out the indebted farmers living in distress because of droughts and crop failure.

– It was expected to see the hike in Minimum Support Price of different crops but it has no mention in the budget.

– There is no promotion for organic farming intending to attract youth when a large population of youth is unemployed and Govt. miserably failed to provide opportunities to them. The Sikkim state has already showed the possible ways of achieving the organic farming throughout the state.

– There is no scheme mentioned for storage of food grains and traditional seed distribution centre at Panchayat level.

– There is no announcement to stop the invasion of GM crops into our traditional crop system and stop further GM trials nationally, which proved to be disaster for farming community worldwide.

– Government overlooked the possible solution for establishing centre at Panchayat level to deal with agricultural waste and their burning which leads to pollution. It can be converted that into compost which can be made available to the farmers and reduce the dependability on chemical fertilizers.

– The very essential aspect of health which sucks a large amount of money is also left dependent on health insurance schemes. The budget for this year for the National Health Mission is Rs. 19,037 crores, which is almost the same last year. Along with inadequate investments in health care, it is also disturbing that the entire strategy of this government for improving access to health care seems to be based on provision of insurance for a few rather than provision of universal and free health services. Such an approach will only benefit the private sector (insurance companies as well as health care providers) and there are serious doubts as to how effective it can be in reducing the burden of health expenditure on people. The NSS data shows that more than 70% of spells of ailment were treated in the private sector. This high dependence on the private sector has been mainly because of poor access to public health services and policies that allowed the unregulated growth of private provision of health care since the 1980s.

– India is amongst the countries that spend the least on health care with a public spending of about 1% of GDP on healthcare compared to 3% in China and 8% in the UK. Successive governments and expert panels have recommended that at least 2.5% to 3% of GDP must be devoted to public expenditure on health.

In the light of growing inequality, equity and justice, we, the representatives of National Alliance of People’s Movements declare the budget as mere an image makeover lacking intention of addressing the real needs of farmers, labourers, Adivasis and other marginalised section of our society.