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Union budget hopes to empower farmers, youth and women

Presenting her fourth budget, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sithraman presented a bouquet of minimum support price (MSP), tech-savvy farming to capital procurement for farm-based start-ups to placate agrarian sector (ANI Photo)

With the crucial elections approaching, the Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman reached out to the sections, apparently upset and angry with the government. These include mainly the farmers and youth. The Finance Ministers offered sops to farmers, announced steps to boost the agriculture sector, announced steps to arrest rising unemployment and with women emerging as a major vote bank, highlighted government's effort to empower women.

While the government had come under severe criticism during the second Covid 19 wave, the Finance Minister declared steps to strengthen the healthcare sectors and focussed on the mental health issues which had shown a steep rise during the pandemic.

The 13-month long farmers' agitation against the three farm laws, which were eventually rolled back in December 2021, has virtually consolidated the farmers against the ruling establishment. The BJP has been reeling under the farmers' wrath in the states going to polls, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, Uttarakhand and Goa. There had been reports of farmers not allowing BJP leaders to campaign in western Uttar Pradesh.

Presenting her fourth budget, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sithraman presented a bouquet of minimum support price (MSP), tech-savvy farming to capital procurement for farm-based start-ups to placate agrarian sector. Amidst cheers and thumping of the benches from the ruling side, Sitharaman declared that for Minimum Support Price, Rs 2.37 lakh crore "direct payments to farmers against procurement of wheat and paddy crops will be made in the form of MSPs." Besides the rollback of the contentious farm laws, the farmers had also been demanding an increase of the MSP.  The Finance Minister also said that "the government's massive procurement of wheat (in Rabi season 2021-22) and an estimated procurement of paddy (in Kharif season) will cover 1208 lakh metric tonnes of wheat and paddy from 163 lakh farmers. Cutting across the caste, the Finance Minister announced that "financial support" would be provided to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes wanting to take up agroforestry.

On the tech-savvy farming, Sitharaman spoke of the "use of Kisan drones for crop assessments, land records and spraying of insecticide will drive a wave of technology and farming sector." The Finance Minister also declared that the proposed implementation of the Ken Betwa Linking Project at the estimated cost of Rs 44,605 crore will "benefit nearly a million farmers." The budget declared that the draft for five river links "has been finalised and would benefit 900,000 farmers."  The Ken Betwa is the first project under the National Perspective Plan for the interlinking of rivers.  It envisages transferring water from the Ken river to Betwa river, tributaries of the Yamuna. The Ken-Betwa Canal would be 221km long. She also said that natural farming "will be promoted along the Ganga river corridor."

On the issue of capital to be raised for farm-based start-ups, the Finance Minister said that "a fund blended capital under co-investment model facilitated through NABARD to finance start-ups in agriculture and rural enterprises for farm produce value chain will be put in place."  She also announced a plan to promote oilseed cultivation to reduce import dependency.

She also spoke of promoting chemical-free natural farming to boost "sustainable agricultural productivity and income of the farmers." The government wanted farmers to take up farming of diverse crops and fruits and democratise the procurement procedures.

The alarming rise of unemployment has been a cause of concern for the government. Incidentally, a high unemployment rate remains a common factor in all the poll-bound states. In a bid to arrest joblessness, the Finance Minister declared that the target of the government "is to create 60 lakh jobs." According to her PM Gati Shakti "will pull forward the economy and will lead to more jobs." On the employment sector, Sitharaman claimed that the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme aimed to achieve "Atmanirbhar Bharat has received an overwhelming response with the potential to create 60 lakh new job and additional production of 30 lakh crore during the next five years." Stats indicated that urban unemployment is around 9.3% and rural unemployment is up by 7.3%. To create jobs, the government intended to re-orient skilling programmes to create more jobs. It may be mentioned that political opponents, Samajwadi Party and Congress have been repeatedly targeting the BJP over rising unemployment in Uttar Pradesh.

Women have emerged as a major vote bank over the years. In Uttar Pradesh, Congress leader, Priyanka Gandhi's election plank-"Ladki Hun, Lad Sakti hun," has appealed to the women voters. Highlighting government's push for empowerment of women, the Finance Minister announced the moves to revamp schemes like Mission Shakti, Mission Vatsalya, Saksham Angwanwadi and Poshan 2.0.

The other key sector where the government had come under severe criticism during second wave of Covid 19 was health. In her budget speech, the Finance Minister said that "we are in the midst of the Omicron wave, the speed of our vaccination campaign helped us greatly." The Finance Minister was confident that with "Sabka Prayas" the growth would continue. She announced that the government "will spend Rs 64,180 crore over the next six years to improve healthcare services. On the crucial issue of mental health, the Finance Minister while announcing the launch of 'National Tele Mental Health Programme", she said that the "pandemic has accentuated mental health problems in people of all ages." The Tele Mental Health programme would include a network of 23 tele mental health centres of excellence with Nimhans being the nodal centre and IIIT Bengaluru providing technological support.

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