More funds to revive country's rural economy

More funds to revive country's rural economy
The finance minister has fairly succeeded in balancing economic growth with equity. The increased allocation to rural infrastructure and schemes that are aimed at helping the agricultural sector like crop insurance augur well for the revival of the rural economy. The doubling of the allocation for MGNREGA would have been a mere “shot in the dark” but for the sharpened focus on the creation of agricultural assets like water harvesting and storage structures in villages. This would become an important step towards insulating Indian agriculture from the adverse impacts of “climate change”; erratic monsoon rains leading to prolonged droughts and flooding are only going to get more frequent in the years to come.

The government has a stated aim of doubling farmer income by 2020. While several of the announced steps in this Budget can help, there is no specific thrust on technology which is a potent tool  in reaching this end. History bears testimony to the fact that technology has had a significant impact in boosting agriculture productivity. While this government has been asserting the need to leverage modern science to pull the agricultural sector from the morass it is mired in. It has been ambivalent in taking the necessary and obvious steps, whether it be in the enunciation of appropriate policies or in removing the needless regulatory hurdles that have been hampering technology infusion. This Budget, I believe, is a missed opportunity to clear this ambivalence; Arun Jaitley should have announced some specific steps to boost technology development and dissemination.

The DG of the Indian Council for Agricultural Research had recently made a reasoned plea for the increase in the funding for crop research and development for ensuring continued agricultural growth. The spurt in the growth of the agricultural sector this fiscal (4.1 % according to the Economic Survey), which comes in the wake of two consecutive years of dismal performance, should not lull the government into complacency. We need many more years of such growth to pull the nation out of the rural distress and technology cannot be discounted among the package of solutions towards this end.

There indeed was an announcement to increase the allocation for science and technology in general. I hope some of this would be going towards supporting agricultural research and development, and particularly promote public-private participation in this area. As they say, everything need not be spelt out in a Budget speech. This government has the right intentions and I am looking forward to some of my disappointment on the technology front being dispelled in future.

(The writer is founder and ex-MD of  Metahelix Life Sciences Ltd)
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