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Budget 2021: Farming community divided, call it 'interim' budget for agriculture

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In Budget 2021, FM Nirmala Sitharaman introduced an agri infra and development cess of up to 100 percent to create post-harvest infrastructure for improving farmers' income.(Image: AP)The farming community is divided over the Union Budget 2021 unveiled by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1. While on the one hand, the FM proposed a 10 percent hike in the farm loan disbursal target to Rs 16.5 lakh crore, the allocation for the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare was slashed by 8.5 percent.Similarly, the flagship PM-KISAN scheme also saw a 13 percent drop in the budget, which is Rs 10,000 crore less than the last year’s initial allocation.

Asserting that the government is committed to farmers' welfare amid the ongoing agitation, FM also introduced an agri infra and development cess of up to 100 percent to create post-harvest infrastructure for improving farmers' income.

Sitharaman also proposed higher allocation for Rural Infrastructure Development Fund and Micro Irrigation Fund and extended Agriculture Infrastructure Fund (AIF) to APMCs for augmenting infrastructure facilities.

Union Budget 2021 Highlights | All the action from FM Sitharaman’s budget– as it happened

The AIF was created in 2020, as part of a COVID-19 stimulus package, to provide subsidised financing to projects by primary agriculture cooperative societies, farmer producer organisations, agriculture entrepreneurs, and start-ups to develop cold chain storage and other post-harvest management infrastructure

Agitating farm unions have said that they are only concerned about getting the three farm laws repealed, and what has been offered to the agriculture sector in the Union budget did not matter.

"Our demand was to increase the price of crops, not agriculture credit. This is a conspiracy to take away your land. Within 10-15 years, the corporate will take your land. The fight is for the rate of crops, not for credit. They didn't talk about MSP. There is nothing for farmers," farmer leader Rakesh Tikait told PTI.

Echoing Tikait's view, Ranjeet Raju, state president, Gramin Kisan Majdoor Samiti, Sri Ganga Nagar said, "If the government wants to help, they should take steps to increase farmers' income, not by increasing agriculture credit target. This is like pushing farmers into the debt trap, which eventually leads to more farmer suicides. And micro-irrigation corpus, which I am told is doubled in this Budget, is something that goes to industries in the name of farmers".

"It can be seen as a sign of support to the APMC system. If they are making APMCs eligible to borrow from this fund, and thus strengthen their infrastructure, the government seems to be sending a message that they are not going to be killed,” said Siraj Hussain, former Agriculture Secretary and currently a fellow at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, as quoted by the Hindu.

He further said that the budget "seems like an interim budget for agriculture as there are no major announcements."

Similarly, Jai Kisan Andolan convenor Avik Saha said, “According to the Economic Survey data, nothing has yet been spent out of the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund of Rs 1 lakh crore or the Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Fund of Rs 15,000 crore, although they were supposed to have been part of the COVID-19 stimulus package.”“While big figures are announced in the name of the infrastructure funds, these are actually not budget allocations, but simply notional funds which are meant to finance projects through loans,” he added, as per the report.

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