How beneficial is the 2020-21 budget for farmers and India’s youth?
On February 1, India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman presented the Union Budget for 2020-21 where the government promised once again “Sabka saath, sabka vikaas, sabka vishwas”. With growing unemployment numbers and a failing agriculture sector, many amongst us had pinned our hopes on the budget. But in Bundelkhand, it doesn’t seem to have inspired any confidence in the general public.
“I don’t know what to make of it.”, says Ghanshyam from Varanasi district. “I had a lot of hopes from the budget but after listening to it, I don’t know if there’s anything in it for people like me.” The general opinion seemed to be one of disappointment and disillusionment. One of the main reasons could be that key rural schemes have not got any major boost in this year’s budget despite a weak rural economy. For MNREGA, the government has allocated almost the same budget of 61,500 crores as against last year’s budget of 60,000 crores. For PMAY-G too this year’s budget is the same as that of last year, 10,000 crores. Similarly, Ayushman Bharat, and PMAY-Gramin have seen no increase in budgets.
In Bundelkhand, a key area eligible for most of these schemes, faith is low. Several of those interviewed by us called out the theoretical exercise that the budget has become. Rajendra from the Dalit Chetna Yuva Sangh in Banda district, is thankful that the government has set aside more money this year for housing schemes, education and fertilizers. “But these are only good if the government machinery works in tandem with government’s intentions that have been laid out in the budget. Only then do the farmers and labourers stand to gain but if not, then the budget will just be good on paper.”
Take MNREGA as a case in point. Around 26.4 crore workers were actually eligible to gain work under the scheme but only 13.53 crores are deemed to have ‘actively participated’ as per MNREGA website for FY 20. PM KISAN Yojana too suffered from poor implementation in FY 20 with approx.. 9 crore farmers getting direct cash transfers, but Accountability Initiative of the Centre for Policy Research found delays in fund release and mismatch in transfers. India’s rural economy is facing the highest unemployment of the last five decades. Poor policy implementation would make a dire situation worse, especially if the policies do not reach who they are actually supposed to benefit.
The government’s 16-point action plan which aims to double farmers’ income by 2022 seems to go the same way. The 16-point action plan includes dedicated trains and flights and relief to farmers facing water shortage. According to experts, the action plan will benefit only about 10% of the farmers. Moreover, most of the points covered in the action plans are already covered in different schemes under different names. And those schemes seem to have made little difference to the rural economy. Experts in the agriculture sector are calling it a missed opportunity, once again. Suman from Varanasi, calls out the lip-service that the government pays to Dalits and the poor. “There are big budgets allocated but the people who it is supposed to go to, don’t even know what they are entitled to, let alone know how to get access to it. Even though there is a budget everything, nothing gets translated on ground.”
“The budget is not at all in our favour. The middle class has at least been given some carrot but the poor have been left out completely. The budget looks to be skewed towards rich businessmen, large corporates and financial sector. Instead if the government had diverted more money towards education, employment and healthcare, we the common citizen would be on a path to a better quality of life.” Says Amit Kumar from Varanasi.
For many of us, the budget was supposed to bring relief and the possibility of an easier year ahead. Touted as the budget that would take India to a new decade of growth and development, there is still a long distance for the government to cover. Lack of successful implementation of most agriculture schemes, continued unemployment and a struggling education and healthcare sector require a lot more action on-ground. “The government must act on what it says. We are hopeful that it actually comes true.”, says Rajendra. Here in Bundelkhand hope floats along with a healthy dose of scepticism.