Union Budget shuts its eye to people’s distress

Agriculture and allied activities allocations slashed; MGNREGA allocation reduced by 25 per cent; neither people friendly nor progressive; "kisan drones" for farmers.

Published : Feb 01, 2022 20:34 IST

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at a news conference in New Delhi, on February 1.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman at a news conference in New Delhi, on February 1.

In his address to the nation soon after the tabling of the Union Budget 2022-23, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that the Budget was both people friendly and progressive and that everyone had welcomed it. The Budget, he claimed, had the welfare of the poor in mind. As it turns out, the Union Budget was neither people friendly nor progressive. The sharp cuts in allocations for agriculture and farmers’ welfare, subsidies, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, and the paltry increase of Rs.80 crore in the health budget belied the claim of the Prime Minister that the Budget was welfare oriented.

The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and the Asha Kisan Swaraj, an organisation committed to sustainable agriculture, slammed the government for neglecting agriculture. The allocation for 2022-23 for agriculture has fallen by over Rs.1 lakh crore, from Rs.4,74,750. 47 crore (BE 2020-2021) to Rs.3,70,303 crore in the present Budget. The AIKS said that this not only ignored the genuine demands of farmers but seemed more like an "act of revenge" against the farmers’ movement of 2020- 2021.

The sum of Rs.2.38 lakh crore set aside for procurement of paddy and wheat was less than the allocation last year. This, the AIKS said, would not only exclude beneficiaries but also not cover all crops, which was one of the main demands of the farmers’ movement. Allocations for fertilizer subsidy, procurement to the Food Corporation of India and the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (crop insurance) had also been similarly slashed. The Finance Minister announced the use of drones for crop assessment. The allocation for the PM-Kisan fund (the one-time assistance of Rs.6,000) had also been reduced. There was an 18 per cent reduction in the allocation for crop husbandry and a 28 per cent slash for food storage and warehousing facilities, the AIKS pointed out.

The Asha Kisan Swaraj said that for the first time in six years, no promise to double the income of farmers was made. The share for agriculture and allied activities as a percentage of the total budget fell from 3.78 per cent in 2021-22 to 3.36 per cent in 2022-23. The allocation for Central schemes like PM-Aasha and Market Intervention Scheme (MIS) that supported Minimum Support Price based procurement operations has been slashed. There has been a deep cut in the allocation to MGNREGS. The Budget Estimates for 2022-23 were lower than the Actuals for 2020-21 and the Revised Estimates for 2021-22. From Rs.98,000 crore (RE 2021-22), the BE for 2022-23 was brought down to Rs.73,000 crore, which was the same allocation in 2021-22. Compared with the present allocation, the Actuals in 2020-21 was to the tune of Rs.1,11,169.53 crore. The ambitious claim, therefore, of a Make in India employment generation to the tune 60 lakh jobs through a capital expenditure of 2.9 per cent of the GDP in infrastructure development is not convincing anyone. On the other hand, the FM announced the promotion of kisan drones for crop assessment, spraying of insecticides, and drawing up of land records which would drive a "wave of technology in the Agriculture and farming sector".

The Anganwadi Federation, a union representing lakhs of ICDS workers and helpers, is affiliated to the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU). It has also slammed the Budget for the paltry increase in the allocation given India’s poor child nutritional indicators. The ‘Saksham Anganwadi and POSHAN 2.0’ (Umbrella ICDS scheme, Poshan Abhiyaan, schemes for adolescent girls) was allocated Rs.20,263.07 crore whereas the allocation last year was Rs.20,105 crore. The federation said that if inflation were accounted for, there was actually a reduction in the allocation. The upgrading of two lakh centres as promised by the Finance Minister would not be possible with this allocation, it said.

The cuts in the food subsidy payable to FCI would also adversely affect the ICDS services, it said and added that cuts in the Mid-day Meal scheme by Rs.1,267 crore would adversely affect the nutrition of children in government schools.

The opposition has also critiqued the Budget for turning a blind eye to the distress faced by people owing to unemployment, depressed consumption and demand, and rising prices. In a statement, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said the Budget had arrived in a backdrop of job losses and huge cuts in real income. In such a scenario, the it had failed to push job creation and increase domestic demand. Instead of introducing measures such as an urban employment guarantee scheme, the government had slashed expenditure by Rs.25,000 crore in MGNREGA and reduced food, fuel and agriculture subsidies and allocations in health and rural development, it said. Even though the Budget proposed an increase in total expenditure by Rs.1,74,909 crore from the RE for 2021-22, this total expenditure as a percentage of the GDP had in fact come down from 17.8 per cent in 2020-21 to 15.3 per cent in the Budget estimates, stated the CPI(M).

The majority of Central trade unions also critiqued the Budget. The CITU, said that the enhanced capital expenditure would be most likely routed through the private corporate sector. The claim of generating 60 lakh jobs in five years was nothing but a hoax, it said. Quoting Budget documents, it said that in 2020-21 tax concessions of Rs.72,041 crore were given to the corporate sector in the name of incentives which was over and above the tax default of Rs.4.05 lakh crore by the same corporate class. In a statement, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the trade union wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, while welcoming the Budget admitted that it was "tilted towards privatisation." The Congress described the Budget as a zero sum one as nothing had been provided to those who needed assistance. Former Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said that the Finance Minister "had mastered the jargon of capitalist economics."

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