Finance Minister Arun Jaitley today did a balancing act with a Budget focusing on the farm sector and unveiling a scheme billed as the world’s largest government health insurance cover without a trace of fiscal profligacy.
The Budget is loaded with goodies for the agriculture sector- this is understandable given the government’s compulsions ahead of the next polls. It announced doubling of farm income, keeping MSP (Minimum Support Price) of all hitherto unannounced Kharif crops at least one and a half times the production cost. The finance minister also announced raising of institutional credit for agriculture sector to Rs 11 lakh crore for 2018-19 from Rs 10 lakh crore in the previous financial year.
‘Operations Greens’ with an outlay of Rs 500 crore has been announced to address the price volatility of perishable commodities like potatoes and onions to benefit both the producers and consumers. Besides this, Rs 200 crore allocated to support organized cultivation of highly specialized medicinal and aromatic plants and associated industry.
In addition, 22,000 rural Haats are proposed to be developed and upgraded into Gramin agricultural markets (grams) for farmers to directly sell to consumers and bulk purchasers
That apart, Rs 2000 crore fund to be set up for developing and upgrading agricultural marketing infrastructure in the 22000 grams and 585 APMCS. Facility of Kisan credit cards have been extended to fisheries and animal husbandry farmers to help them meet their working capital needs; Rs 10,000 crore funds announced cumulatively for infrastructure development in the two sectors.
Jaitley, while announcing the General Budget 2018-19 in Parliament today said that Prime Minister, Narendra Modi gave a clarion call to double farmers’ income by 2022 when India celebrates its 75th year of Independence. “Our emphasis is on generating higher incomes for farmers. We consider agriculture as an enterprise and want to help farmers produce more from the same land parcel at lesser cost and simultaneously realize higher prices for their produce”, the minister added while announcing a slew of new initiatives for the farm sector in Budget 2018-19.
Separately, the Government has enhanced allocation for the Infrastructure Sector in the Union Budget 2018-19, recognizing its role as the growth driver of the economy. The budgetary and extra budgetary expenditure for the Sector has been increased from Rs.4.94 lakh crore in 2017-18 to Rs.5.97 lakh crore in 2018-19. An all time high allocation of Rs 1,34,572 crore has been made for the transport sector while the efforts to develop disaster resilient infrastructure is being given a push with an allocation of Rs. 60 crore in 2018-19.
In the Road sector, the recently approved Bharatmala Pariyojana aims to develop about 35,000 km of highways at a cost of Rs. 5,35,000 crore in Phase I. The National Highways Authority of India (NHI) will consider organizing its road assets into Special Purpose Vehicles and use innovative monetizing structures like Toll, Operate and Transfer (TOT) and Infrastructure Investment Funds (InvITs) for raising funds.
In a relief to the senior citizens, the Finance Minister said that the exemption of interest income on deposits with banks and post offices to be increased from Rs. 10,000/- to Rs. 50,000/- and TDS shall not be required to be deducted on such income, under section 194A. This benefit shall be available also for interest from all fixed deposits schemes and recurring deposit schemes.
The Finance Minister also announced raising the limit of deduction for health insurance premium and or medical expenditure from Rs 30,000 to Rs 50,000, under Section 80D.