Budget needs rural focus

This year’s budget is likely to be given a real rural orientation. This means allocations and spending directly favouring agriculture and rural areas will attract and encourage  young people and promote productivity and incomes of villagers. Agricultural credit has witnessed a steady growth and had reached the Rs 6 lakh crore mark in 2013-14 with 12 crore Kisan Credit Cards, which is set to increase further.

Materially, this should result in increasing fertility of soil and spread and optimisation of irrigation, overall production and diversification. We need to vastly augment production of fruit, vegetables, pulses and oilseeds, milk, meat and eggs. The latter are superior foods and are in sh-ort supply and the current bout of food inflation (notwithstanding negative wholesale price index inflation) adversely affecting the poor and middle classes, is caused due to the paucity of supplies of these commodities.

Food grain production has risen from 51 million tonnes in 1951 to nearly 265 mt in 2013-14, more than a fivefold increase whereas population has incre-ased fourfold. This indicates that we have achieved quantitative progress and immunity against famines though we are rather faltering on the quality and nutrition access fronts.

These tasks are closely cognate to other developmental tasks on hand. Despite the present manifest reservations on the part of government’s political leaders, public opinion is strongly in favour of widening the scope and spread of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme’s (MNREGS) activities.

This has certainly contributed to reduce rural poverty and distress migration to urban misery; wages are linked policy-wise to the cost of living index; women have had firmer opportunities for incomes and to that extent, gained in freedom, choice and dignity amidst peers and their families. Nearly 13 crore people have risen above the poverty line till 2013-14.

The MNREGS activities are focused on land levelling, rain water conservation, water body upgradation in the perspective of local micro topography, rural roads, greening of roadsides and fallow lands and hill slopes. These are rather rural infrastructure elements promoting livestock rearing and use of green and dung manure, all a boon to dry land farming and production of superior foods, much needed in the country.

Complementary to these allo-cations and budgetary support, there is a need to concentrate on improving quality, material endowments and personnel in rural health centres, schools, colleges, polytechnics and ITIs. These will certainly and very soon enhance immunity, health, employability and incomes of village youth. In addition, since these measures will help employment and savings of villagers, their distress migration into cities and urban misery and social anonymity will be halted.

These rural activities and supporting budgetary policy will be a wholesome way to control the growth of reckless urbanisation and the tragedy of sprawl. It will thus be easier to decentralise ec-onomic development by spreading industry and service sector operations in more centres; urbanisation of census towns will become real and substantive.

Imbalance in irrigation
Inequality and imbalance in irrigation use is common and spreading in India. The tradition of growing irrigation-guzzling cereals like rice and wheat has spread, particularly in the command areas of large dams. And indefinite spread of irrigation is rather impossible in our country. We have to attempt a serious equitable sharing of irrigation facilities, at present as well as in future. Encouraging the raising of traditional minor millets like ragi, sorghum, jowar etc has to be recommenced in a big way.

The quantum of irrigation water to raise unit quantity of crops has to be critiqued and minimum or optimum use has to be encouraged. Drip and sprinkler irrigation is quite known and has to be universalised all over. This technology transformation will certainly encourage mechanisation of agriculture and non-farm jobs too in rural areas. In its own way, these changes in agricultural practices and technology will tend to attract rural youth to undertake modern jobs in their own locations: a sort of in situ modernisation of rural youth.

Use of modern equipment in agriculture and rural homes and augmenting warehousing, tran-sport and servicing facilities in villages will invest a new interest among youth in technical education. Training of post school youth in rural areas will become all important and entails founding of institutions and increased budgetary allocations and twe-aking of policies vis-a-vis rural India. The flow of service sector activities into villages will beco-me manifest: social and economic gap between villages and cities will witness a welcome decline.

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