Stating that the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was taking steps to build a “New India”, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s last full budget on Thursday (1st Feb) was filled with a slew of populist measures, clearly aimed at wooing the poor and distressed in the country ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Agriculture, in fact, got prime attention in this year’s budget, with the Finance Minister saying the government was focused on strengthening agriculture and rural economy and doubling farmers income by 2022.“My prime minister gave the clarion call to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. We consider agriculture to be an enterprise and want farmers to produce more on the same land and also get better returns from their produce,” Jaitley said.
In addition, the government also announced the development of institutional mechanisms to tackle agrarian issues like policies for prices, expansion of warehouse system and development of agricultural infrastructure. An “Operation Green” will be launched to promote farmer producer organisations and agri-logistics associations. The government will also give tax sops to“farmer production companies” and promote organic farming, fishing and animal husbandry in a big way.
The FM also announced the increase of minimum support price (MSP) of all Kharif crops to at least 1.5 times that of the production cost, in a move expected to provide major boost to farmer incomes.
With elections looming large, this year’s budget also features some political SOPs, chief among them being the announcement of ‘the world’s largest government-funded healthcare programme’, according to the Finance Minister.
According to this, the government will set up a National Health Protection Scheme that will provide health cover to 100 million poor and vulnerable families and reach out to approximately 500 million beneficiaries. Under the scheme, a sum of Rs 5 lakh per family per year will be provided in a bid to expand the universal health coverage.
The financial outlays for the programme are not clear yet, but the announcement of the programme is being hailed as a political masterstroke, clearly aimed at winning favour with India’s poor.
The government has also announced free gas connections to eight crore poor families – with higher allocation- another move that could yield it great political dividends in a year when several state polls, including the crucial states of Karnataka and Rajasthan, are scheduled to happen.
The government also announced schemes relating to the poor and middle class, including providing free electricity connections to 40 million families and building 20 million more toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission.
Filled with political SOPs and feel good schemes, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s fourth budget then seems to have a clear political goal – that of creating the perception that it stands with the poor and the vulnerable. The coming months will decide if the BJP’s gameplan will work.