Budget 2023: The Indian economy is on a slow path to recovery as the COVID-19 crisis has more or less subsided. It has been established emphatically that the rural sector needs to be galvanized and brought back to the place of prominence, as the driver of the national economy, in order to ensure that the kind of distress that was witnessed during the COVID-19 crisis does not repeat.
A much-enhanced budget allocation has to be directed to revitalize the rural areas, especially in revamping agriculture. Agriculture (and livestock rearing) has to be incentivized so that it meets the household food and nutrition security (FNS) and a steady cash income. The focus needs to be on regenerative agricultural practices which will ensure ecological security and food safety.
MSMEs, especially around food processing, need to be incentivized so that a lot of employment gets created at the level of the local economy. Well in line with the principle of “Vocal for local”, the government must invest in creating local production and marketing clusters. The rural sector thus requires two kinds of investments – one to expand the economic opportunities and the second to mitigate the existing distress.
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From this perspective, a number of specific recommendations are as follows:
• Investments in solar power powered, community-based micro-irrigation @ Rs. 7 lakhs per scheme for 50,000 schemes of 10 ha each, providing assured rabi irrigation – Rs. 35,000 crores
• Revitalizing water harvesting structures by excavating existing lakes and tanks @ Rs. 500,000 per tank for 100,000 tanks – Rs. 5000 crores
• Enhancing MGNREGA allocation to Rs 200,000 crores to meet all the wage employment requirements, which in turn can build large-scale livelihood assets in terms of farm ponds and water harvesting structures. Increase the number of days to 200 in tribal areas and 150 in other areas; increase the wage to Rs 300/-
• Incentivizing for Regenerative agriculture @ Rs. 5000 per hectare for 10 million hectares – Rs. 5000 Crores
• Increasing support to NGOs under the FPO support program
• Incentivizing Local investments in MSMEs, on food processing, and other start-up-s – cash incentives, tax breaks, and easy loans will be helpful to boost the MSME sector
• Incentivizing large manufacturing companies to invest in small and mofussil towns to create local employment in auxiliary and back-end firms, and invest/incentivize companies in building local ITIs to train youth in specific skills
• Increasing area under FRA and incentivize forest management groups with working capital of Rs 25 lakhs per group for resource management
• Enhancing old age pension, and widow pension to at least Rs 3000 per month
• Increasing farmer incentive under PM-KISAN to Rs 8000/- per hectare
• Incentivizing girls for higher education – meet the cost of transport to nearby college
• Increasing the corpus of Bharat Rural Livelihoods Foundation (BRLF) to Rs. 1500 crores
Author: Narendranath Damodaran, Integrator at PRADAN
(Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of India TV)